Posts Tagged ‘Arlington’

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Capital Bikeshare Program

Over the past few years I’ve found out first hand that biking around D.C. is a great way to get to know the city and explore all that it has to offer.  It’s also a fun way to exercise and stay healthy.  I go for a ride everyday.  And I have a convenient and secure place to store my bikes.  So I chose to own my bikes.  But another alternative to owning a bike, especially if you’re only an occasional rider or don’t have anywhere to keep one, is to rent a bike.

Renting a bike in D.C. has been something that has been possible for quite a long time.  Dating back to the early 1940’s, bike rentals were available through bike shops and gas stations at different independent locations in the city.  But today the Capital Bikeshare Program provides a network of stations that makes renting a bike easy, convenient and affordable.

Capital Bikeshare, which first began in 2010, makes over 3,500 bicycles available for rent at over 400 stations across D.C., Arlington and Alexandria, Virginia, and Montgomery County, Maryland.  Whether it’s for a short trip, a commute to work, to get to the Metro, running errands, going shopping, visiting friends and family, or for any other reason, you can simply rent a bike at any nearby station.  And then when you’re done, you can return it to the same station where you started, or to any other station near your destination.

You can join Capital Bikeshare online or at one of their convenient a commuter store locations.  Membership options include a day, 3 days, a month, a year or try their new Day Key option.  This gives you access to their fleet of bikes 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The first 30 minutes of each trip are free. Each additional 30 minutes incurs an additional fee.

The city’s increasing amount of bike lanes and biking infrastructure combined with the convenient availability of bikes makes it easier than ever to get out there and explore our nation’s capital.

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Left – A bicycle rental shop on 22nd Street, near Virginia Avenue N.W., Washington, D.C., on a Sunday. (Library of Congress Control Number fsa2000056770/PP.  Contributor:  Marjory Collins.  Circa June/July 1942.)
Right – Bicycles for Rent, Washington, D.C. (Library of Congress Control Number fsa1998024089/PP.  Contributor:  Martha McMillan Roberts. Circa 1941.)
Center – Washington, D.C. Renting bicycles at a gas station on East Potomac Park. Notice the “no gas” sign on the nearest gasoline pump. (Library of Congress Control Number fsa2000056780/PP.  Contributor:  Marjory Collins. Circa June/July 1942.)

Note:  Historic photos obtained from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division and used with the permission of the U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information/Office of Emergency Management/Resettlement Administration.

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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 National Memorial Day Concert

Over the past week or so it has become clear to me that Memorial Day is one of the best holidays to schedule a visit to our nation’s capitol. There are so many activities that take place, all scheduled within a short period of time leading up to the holiday, that it is worth planning ahead so that you can be here next year.  And during this past weekend I was able to attend an event that was a highlight for me – The National Memorial Day Concert.

Actually, this year I attended the dress rehearsal for the concert. And it turned out to be a good decision. The concert itself takes place on the Sunday before Memorial Day, and the dress rehearsal takes place on Saturday.  Both are held on the West Lawn, on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol Building (MAP).  The dress rehearsal includes everything the actual concert does, except this year it didn’t include the rain.  It was a dry, mild evening for the rehearsal on Saturday. But on Sunday, rain brought on by a tropical depression making its way up the East Coast, fell throughout most of the concert.

So I took my youngest daughter, and we got to the rehearsal concert early.  In fact,  we arrived just as they were opening the security gates. So we got great lawn seats, right behind the cordoned-off security area in the front.  We had a great view of this year’s performers, including the National Symphony Orchestra under the direction of top pops conductor Jack Everly, who were at times accompanied by The U.S. Army Herald Trumpets, The U.S. Army Chorus, The Soldiers’ Chorus of the U.S. Army Field Band, The U.S. Navy Band Sea Chanters, and The U.S. Air Force Singing Sergeants. We also enjoyed performances by acclaimed classical singer Renée Fleming, actress and singer Katharine McPhee, American Idol winner Trent Harmon, and Broadway star Alfie Boe. But the highlights of the concert for me were The Beach Boys, who I hadn’t seen in person since their controversial 1980 concert for the 4th of July on the National Mall, singing several of their iconic songs, and country music star Trace Adkins, who performed his hit song entitled Arlington.

The concert was a lot of fun. Both my daughter and I really enjoyed it. But the highlight for my daughter came after the performances ended. At this point it is important to know that she is a huge fan of Gary Sinise who, for the 11th year in a row, co-hosted the event along with Joe Montegna.  In fact, despite his widespread popularity, she may actually be Gary Sinise’s biggest fan. So after the performances ended, and most of the crowd had left, the hosts and performers stayed and taped some additional footage so that if the next night’s concert had to be cancelled due to the approaching storm, an edited version of the rehearsal would be able to air in the time slot scheduled for of the live broadcast of the concert.  And it was during this time that the highlight of my daughter’s evening occurred.

Since most of the security detail left along with the crowd at the end of the rehearsal, we saw an opportunity and snuck through the security barriers into the cordoned off area where Gary Sinise was filming his retakes so she can see him close up.  Then, just as everything was ending and the performers were beginning to leave, she was able to catch up with him as he was exiting the stage, and actually meet him.  And standing there in her Bubba Gump Shrimp Company hat, like one that he wore in the movie Forrest Gump, and her Lieutenant Dan t-shirt, she also got him to autograph her hat as they briefly talked.

She said her heart was beating so hard that it almost burst out of her chest when she met him.  And she’s been absolutely giddy about the whole experience ever since.  She even ran out the next day and bought a display case for the autographed hat.  Afterward she told me that meeting her favorite actor and getting his autograph had been a big item on her bucket list. So she has now crossed that off her list. And I got to cross an item off my list too, which was to help someone else accomplish something on their bucket list.  And despite how good the performances were, that beats a concert any day.

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Note:  My one complaint about the National Memorial Day Concert and the preceding rehearsal is that despite warnings about traffic and inadequate parking for the event, they make no accommodations for people arriving on bicycles.

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Tomb of the Unknowns

Although it is one of the most universally recognized of the numerous monuments and memorials located within the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery (MAP), the memorial I rode there to see on this lunchtime bike ride does not have an official name. It is most commonly referred to as either the Tomb of the Unknowns, or the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but it has never been officially named.

In March of 1921 the United States Congress approved the burial of the unidentified American soldier in the plaza of the new Memorial Amphitheater in Arlington National Cemetery. So an unknown soldier was exhumed from an American military cemetery in France, and transported back to the United States, where he laid in state in the Capitol Rotunda until Armistice Day of that year. Then, in a ceremony presided over by President Warren G. Harding on November 11, 1921, the unknown soldier was laid to rest and the Tomb of the Unknowns was dedicated as a monument to all those who had fallen during World War I.

Over the years the monument has changed a number of times in regard to both its appearance and purpose. In July of 1926, five years after its dedication, Congress authorized and appropriated money for the completion of a superstructure on top of the Tomb. A design competition was held and won by architect Lorimer Rich and sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones. The Tomb was completed without formal ceremony in April of 1932. But the biggest change to the Tomb took place in August of 1956, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill to select and pay tribute to the unknown soldiers of World War II and the Korean War. Finally, on Memorial Day in 1984, President Ronald Reagan presided over the internment of an unknown soldier from the Vietnam War.

Interestingly, with subsequent improvements in DNA testing, the remains of the unknown from the Vietnam War were identified as those of Air Force Lieutenant Michael Joseph Blassie, who was shot down near An Lộc, Vietnam, in 1972. The identification was announced in June of 1998. The following month, Blassie’s remains were sent home to his family in St. Louis, Missouri, where he was reinterred at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. Today, the slab over the crypt that once held the remains of the Vietnam Unknown has been replaced. The original inscription of “Vietnam” and the dates of the conflict has been changed to “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen” as a reminder of the commitment of the Armed Forces to the fullest possible accounting of missing service members.

One of the most distinctive and unique features of the Tomb of the Unknowns is that it is guarded 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in any and all kinds of weather.  In fact, there has been a Sentinel, as the guards are known, on duty in front of the Tomb every minute of every day since 1937. Sentinels, all of whom are volunteers, are considered to be the best of the elite 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, the oldest active-duty infantry unit in the U.S. Army. Also known as The Old Guard, the Sentinels are headquartered at nearby Fort Myer, which is adjacent to the cemetery. It is considered one of the highest honors to serve as a Sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

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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 Pentagon

The D.C. area is not only home to the largest library in the world, it is also home to the world’s largest office building.  Located just outside of D.C., across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia (MAP), that building is The Pentagon, and it is where I rode on this bike ride.

The Pentagon was dedicated on January 15, 1943, after ground was broken for construction two and a half years earlier, ironically on September 11th.  It is the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense, although it was not initially intended to be.  In the 1930’s,  President Franklin D. Roosevelt commissioned another building for the War and Navy departments, but they quickly outgrew that space. That’s when a new building was commissioned. The old War Department building is now the State Department.

The Pentagon also serves as a symbol of the U.S. military.  “The Pentagon” is often used metonymically (which is today’s vocabulary work of the day, and is defined as “a figure of speech in which a thing or concept is called not by its own name but rather by the name of something associated in meaning with that thing or concept”) to refer to the Department of Defense, rather than the building itself.

Although it remains the world’s largest office building, The Pentagon currently ranks only 12th in the world, and 2nd in the U.S., of all buildings in terms of floor area, with approximately about 6.5 million sq ft, of which 3.7 million sq ft are used as offices. (Dubai International Airport is the largest in the world, and The Palazzo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas is the largest in the U.S.)

Over 23,000 military and civilian employees and non-defense support personnel work in the Pentagon. It has five sides, five floors above ground, two basement levels, and five ring corridors per floor with a total of 17.5 miles of corridors. It is thought of as one of the most efficient office buildings in the world. Despite the 17.5 miles of corridors it takes only seven minutes to walk between any two points in the building. The Pentagon covers 34 acres of land and includes a five-acre central plaza, which is shaped like a pentagon and informally and ironically known as “ground zero,” a nickname originating during the Cold War and based on the presumption that the Soviet Union would target one or more nuclear missiles at this central location in the outbreak of a nuclear war.

The Federal government paid just over $52 million for the land and to construct the massive building.  And under the oversight of General Leslie R. Groves, who also oversaw the Manhattan project,  building of the Pentagon was accomplished in just two years.   After the September 11, 2001 attacks, it cost $501 million dollars just to repair the damage.  And it has had one major renovation since it opened its doors in 1943.  That renovation was completed in 2011, cost $4.5 billion, and took 17 years to finish.

Some other interesting facts and figures about The Pentagon include the following. If you chopped off the Empire State Building at its base and laid it across the top of the Pentagon, it would not reach from end to end. And the Pentagon has twice as much office space as the Empire State building.  The Pentagon has 284 rest rooms, twice the number needed due to being built when racial segregation laws requiring separate facilities still existed. It also has 691 drinking fountains, including the legendary “purple water fountain.” The building was originally designed without elevators, to save on steel, but has 131 stairways and 19 escalators. The Pentagon has 16,250 light fixtures which require 250 new bulbs daily. It has its own post office, dry cleaner, barbershop, nail salon, shoe repair shop, gymnasium, clinic, florist, and even a DMV.  It also has a CVS, a Best Buy and an Adidas store. The Pentagon has plenty of dining options as well, including two Starbucks, three Subways, and a restaurant staff of 230 persons who work in 1 dining room, 2 cafeterias, and 6 indoor and 1 outdoor snack bars. The Pentagon also has: 4,200 clocks in the hallways; 7,754 windows, and; 16 parking lots with approximately 8,770 parking spaces. Over 200,000 telephone calls are made daily through phones connected by 100,000 miles of telephone cable. The building’s Post Office handles about 1.2 million pieces of mail monthly.  And, out of 210 countries in the world, the Pentagon consumes more oil per day than all but 35 countries.

The public can access The Pentagon 9/11 Memorial, which is located on the grounds to the southwest of the building.  However, because it is a military facility, access to the building and other areas can be restricted.  But guided tours are available.  The Pentagon Tour includes a 60-minute presentation and a 1.49 mile walk through the building, and it is well worth the time.

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The Partridge Family Jeep

When I saw this Jeep on one of my recent lunchtime bike rides near the Four Mile Run Trail in Arlington, Virginia, my first thought was, “I hope it belongs to Suzanne Crough.”  I thought it would be really far-out to meet the youngest member of the Partridge family, especially since today is her 52nd birthday.  I figured it probably wasn’t hers though, because she lives in Bullhead City, Arizona, where she is a wife, mother to two children, and working as a manager at Office Max.

So I continued to wonder whose Jeep might this be. I knew it couldn’t be Dave Madden’s, because unfortunately he passed away in January of last year at the age of 82. And I figured it probably wasn’t Shirley Jones’ vehicle either, because at the age of 80 there’s a good chance that she isn’t still driving.  And even if she is, it probably isn’t in a vehicle that looks like this because she is a known as a very private person and this Jeep just stands out too much.

I’m also fairly certain that the Jeep does not belong to Ricky Segall, who played the precocious Ricky Stevens, the show’s “Cousin Oliver”, a cute but largely unnecessary shark-jumping Prince Valiant-haired moppet who popped up in the last five minutes of several episodes beginning in the series’ final season.  Because he had such a minor role in the show, he probably doesn’t hold the same loyalty or fondness for the Partridge family bus. Also, since Ricky was the only Partridge family member to also appear on The Brady Bunch (although Shirley Jones was originally offered the role of Mrs. Brady and turned it down), his loyalties are somewhat divided.  Additionally, it doesn’t seem like it would be the vehicle of choice of someone who dropped out of show business to become an ordained minister in Canada.

I then thought, maybe it belongs to Jeremy Gelbwaks. But after studying chemistry at UC Berkeley, he became a computer analyst and moved to New Orleans where he works as a business and technology planner. Besides, he was only with The Partridge Family for one year, and was replaced after the first season by Brian Forster.  So like Ricky Segall, he only rode on it for a year and probably doesn’t hold the same loyalty or fondness for the Partridge family bus.

I’m pretty sure the Jeep doesn’t belong to Brian Forster either. Brian is a race car driver in Northern California, and he continues to act in community theater there. So he spends most of his time on the west coast.

I also figured the Jeep probably doesn’t belong to Danny Bonaduce. After periods of drug abuse, homelessness, and a series of arrests, including soliciting and then robbing and beating a transvestite prostitute, he seems to have his act together these days.  He’s now fairly busy professionally, currently working on his number one morning radio show, The Danny Bonaduce Show on KZOK 102.5, Seattle’s classic rock station. He also works as a commentator on the TruTV Network show entitled “The Smoking Gun Presents: World’s Dumbest … ”, as well as making various guest appearances and performances.  Besides, he also spends the majority of his time on the west coast, with homes in both Los Angeles and Seattle. He spends most of his time in Seattle though, which is why he is currently trying to rent out his residence in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles. So if you are a big Partridge Family or Danny Bonaduce fan, and can spare $12,000.00 a month, you may want to check out his house because the Jeep probably isn’t his.

Susan Dey, currently a board member of the Rape Treatment Center at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, probably is not the owner of this Jeep as well. It seems out of character for someone who has disassociated herself from the show and is the only person who has consistently refused to take part in any Partridge family reunions over the years. This might be attributable to the unrequited crush she had on David Cassidy throughout the series, which she did not handle particularly well.

This leaves David Cassidy, but the Jeep probably isn’t his either.   Even though he was here in the D.C. area a few weeks ago when he performed at the The Birchmere in Alexandria, I still don’t think it is his.  As child stars tend to do, David Cassidy for a long time wanted to break away from the character he played on TV, so he probably wouldn’t want to drive around in a vehicle that reminds everyone of the TV series.  I was kind of hoping it wasn’t David Cassidy’s anyway. After multiple drunk driving arrests over the past few years in Florida, California and New York, including one just last year, he shouldn’t be driving. Especially since it seems as though he doesn’t fully understand the seriousness of the offenses. The arrest report in one of his recent cases, when he was pulled over and arrested by an officer who happened to be named Tom Jones, reported that Cassidy jokingly asked officer Jones “What’s New Pussycat?” in reference to the 1965 hit song by the singer who shares the same name as the officer. Also, a video of one of Cassidy’s other drunk driving arrests was featured on the TruTV Network series entitled “The Smoking Gun Presents: World’s Dumbest … ”, in which his fellow Partridge family member Danny Bonaduce jokingly thanked Cassidy for no longer making Bonaduce “the most embarrassing member of The Partridge Family.”

So, having ruled out all of the members of the Partridge family, I guess I may never know who owns this groovy Jeep.

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Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution

On this bike ride I went to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. However, I did not ride to the widely-known memorial at Arlington National Cemetery which holds the unidentified remains of soldiers from World War I, World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam Wars. I rode to the one located in a cemetery in Alexandria, Virginia, which holds the remains of an unknown soldier of the American Revolution. Unknown to most tourists and even longtime area residents, the Revolutionary soldier’s gravesite is the original Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

It is not included in Alexandria’s official walking-tour guide handed out at the city’s visitor center. Washington tourism materials don’t give it much regard, and the tomb is mentioned only briefly, if at all, in any guidebooks written about the area. Tucked away in the corner of the burial ground and backed up against a wall of an adjacent building, it can be difficult to locate even if you know where to look. I was fortunate to just accidently happen upon it when I was riding around and exploring.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution is located in a small burial ground behind the Old Presbyterian Meeting House, which is located at 323 South Fairfax Street (MAP) in the Old Town district of the city of Alexandria.  In addition to the unidentified soldier who is honored by the tomb, the burial ground, which was founded in 1775, is the final resting place of approximately 300 persons, including many other patriots of the Revolutionary War.

The remains entombed in the Alexandria memorial were unearthed during an 1821 construction project when workers dug a foundation for a Catholic chapel behind the Old Presbyterian Meeting House and found an unmarked grave with an ammunition box serving as a coffin. The uniform identified the soldier as from Revolutionary War and uniform adornments indicated he was from Kentucky. The remains were reinterred at their present location behind the meeting house on January 21, 1821, more than 100 years prior to the dedication of Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknowns, which took place on November 11, 1921.

The tabletop epitaph on top of the marble marker for the Tomb has faded with time, but is still legible. The inscription is remarkably similar to the inscription on the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National, and reads, “Here lies a soldier of the Revolution whose identity is known but to God.” The inscription at the memorial in Arlington reads, “Here reset in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.” An additional inscription on a plaque in front of the memorial, similar to that found on the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington, reads, “In Memory of an Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution. Erected by the National Society Children of the American Revolution. April 10, 1929. Temporary Marker Place by American Legion Post No. 21, Alexandria Virginia February 22, 1928.”

The Old Presbyterian Meeting House, which is the caretaker for burial ground where the tomb is located reports that, on average, only handful of people per day pick up the pamphlet explaining the memorial. This does not compare with the approximately 11,000 people who enter Arlington National Cemetery each day to view the Tomb of the Unknowns. Also, there are no guards before the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier. Rather, only a small wrought-iron fence surrounds the gravesite. This stands in stark contrast to the Sentinels at the Tomb of the Unknowns, who stand guard while “walking the mat” in perfectly measured steps.   However, despite the fact that the small marble Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution cannot compete in regard to size, the number of visitors, or the grandeur of the Tomb of the Unknowns or the other giant memorials, statues and monuments throughout the national capitol area, it ranks right up there with all of them in terms of history and meaning.

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Francis Scott Key Park

Francis Scott Key Park

The small but formal park and memorial located at 34th and M Streets (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood was the destination of this bike ride. It is named Francis Scott Key Park, and is adjacent to the Francis Scott Key Bridge, which traverses the Potomac River to connect Georgetown to the Rosslyn neighborhood of Arlington in Virginia. The park honors the man who wrote the poem about the British attack on Fort McHenry in Baltimore in 1814 which was turned into a song called “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and in 1931 became our national anthem.

Francis Scott Key Park features gardens with floral and other plantings, a bronze bust of Francis Scott Key, and a a tall flagpole.  A flag with 15 stars and 15 stripes, a replica of the one that flew over Fort McHenry back on that fateful night in 1841, flies night and day in the park.  It opened in 1993, and was designed by Friedrich St. Florian, the same architect who designed The National World War II Memorial located downtown on the National Mall.

Key was originally from nearby Carroll County, Maryland, where he was born on August 1, 1779. While he spent a lot of time in Baltimore, Key lived a good number of years in Georgetown, where he and his family moved in 1803. They lived in a house at the corner of 34th and M Streets, where the park is now located. Unfortunately, the house was demolished in 1947.

While living in D.C., Key served in the Georgetown field artillery unit.  After the British burned Washington in 1814, Key traveled to Baltimore to help negotiate the release of American prisoners. It was during this trip that he wrote the Star Spangled Banner.

In addition to being an amateur poet, Francis Scott Key was an American lawyer and author. He was a successful as an attorney in D.C. for many years. Upon returning to D.C. after the war, Key assisted his prominent lawyer uncle Philip Barton Key, including in the sensational conspiracy trial of Aaron Burr, and the expulsion of Senator John Smith of Ohio. Key’s extensive trial practice flourished, as did his real estate practice as well. During his time as a lawyer he went on to help negotiate with Indian tribes, assist President Thomas Jefferson’s attorney general in a case in which he appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court, and serve as the attorney for Sam Houston during his trial in the U.S. House of Representatives for assaulting another Congressman.

Key’s legal career culminating with his appointment as the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, serving from 1833 to 1841.  It was during this time as U.S. Attorney that he prosecuted Richard Lawrence, the person who unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate President Andrew Jackson.   He also handled private legal cases as well during this time.

It was also during his tenure as U.S. Attorney that Key, a slave-owner himself, used his position to suppress abolitionists.  Key purchased his first slave in 1800 or 1801, and owned at least six slaves by the time he became a U.S. Attorney.  Mostly in the 1830s, he represented several masters seeking return of their runaway human property.  However, Key also manumitted several enslaved persons, and throughout his career he also represented for free several slaves seeking their freedom in court. Key was also a founding member and active leader of the American Colonization Society, the primary goal of which was to send free African-Americans back to Africa.  However, he was later ousted from the board as its policies shifted toward abolitionist.

There is much more to Francis Scott Key than most people know, just like there is more to D.C. than most people realize. Francis Scott Key Park is an example of this. And just like the man, the park is worthwhile in getting to know better.

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Ben's Chili Bowl

Ben’s Chili Bowl

September’s end-of-the-month restaurant review is of Ben’s Chili Bowl. A D.C. landmark restaurant, it is located in northwest D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood, next to The Lincoln Theatre, in an historic building at 1213 U Street (MAP).  Built in 1910, the building originally housed the city’s first silent movie house, named The Minnehaha Theater. Later, Harry Beckley, one of D.C.’s first Black police detectives, converted it into a pool hall.  A family-run business, Ben’s Chili Bowl was originally opened by Ben Ali, a Trinidadian-born immigrant who had studied dentistry at nearby Howard University, and his fiancee, Virginian-born Virginia Rollins. They were married seven weeks after opening the restaurant.  Today it is run by their sons, Kamal and Nizam.

From the unrest of the late 1960’s race riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., to the tough economic times in the 1970’s and 1980’s that resulted from the destruction of much of the neighborhood’s businesses during the riots, and finally to the revitalization and gentrification of the U Street Corridor beginning in the 1990’s, Ben’s has survived and seen it all. Over 50 years later, Ben’s remains as it has always been, right down to the red booths and bar stools and Formica counters, which are the original ones from when the restaurant first opened. Even Ben’s large neon “Home of the Famous Chili Dog” hearkens back to an earlier time.

Locals and tourists, as well as celebrities including Bill Cosby, Chris Tucker and Bono, and politicians such as President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, have flocked to Ben’s Chili Bowl for decades for its rich history, friendly atmosphere and delicious food.  A sign at the restaurant, however, notifies patrons that only Mr. Cosby and the Obama family eat for free.

The menu at Ben’s includes the traditional hot dogs and hamburgers and fries, as well as more recently added healthier choices such as turkey dogs and vegetarian burgers. But I must confess that I have not tried any of these offerings. It seems almost wrong to go to Ben’s and not have what they are most famous for.

Ben’s namesake chili is still made according to the original recipe, and comes complete with chunks of ground beef, green peppers and onions, and is filled with spices to tantalize your taste buds. The chili is available by the bowl, as well as how I prefer it – as a condiment for the hot dogs, French fries, and just about anything else on the menu. But my recommendation is to try “Bill Cosby’s Original Chili Half-smoke.” Originally made famous by Ben’s in 1958 and a favorite of Mr. Cosby’s since the early 1960s, it is a mouth-watering and juicy half-pork and half-beef smoked sausage, topped with their spicy chili, on a warm steamed bun. It is considered not only Ben’s, but D.C.’s signature dish.

Recently, Ben’s Chili Bowl has also expanded by opening a new restaurant and bar called Ben’s Next Door, in addition to outposts at Nationals Park and FedEx Field, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, and across the river in Rosslyn neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia. And although the food is the same, there is something about the original location that makes everything just a little bit better.  But don’t take my word for it.  You don’t even have to believe the prestigious James Beard Foundation, which named Ben’s one of the “down-home eateries that have carved out a special place on the American culinary landscape.”  I recommend that you stop by and try it for yourself.

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