Posts Tagged ‘Arlington’

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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Crystal City Water Park

Crystal City Water Park

On this bike ride I left D.C. via the 14th Street Bridge, and went for a ride on the trails in Virginia. I starting out on the Mount Vernon Trail, and then rode south past Gravelly Point Park and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. But instead of continuing south, I decided to turn off and take one of the side trails. So I turned west and went through a tunnel, and discovered a park I did not know about before. It is called the Crystal City Water Park, and is located at 1750 Crystal Drive (MAP), between 15th and 18th Streets in the Crystal City neighborhood of Arlington County.

Depending on the time of day, Crystal City Water Park can be a quiet, serene setting, with the sound of the water from the multiple fountains and waterfalls adding to the calm. During these times it provides an ideal setting for those seeking a place to de-stress. At other times, such as mid-day during the week, the park often fills up with nearby office workers having lunch. There is a small restaurant located in the park named The Water Park Café, which serves Mediterranean, Egyptian and American food. And whether you get your lunch from the Café or brown-bag it from home, there is plenty of outdoor seating.

The park is the site of many scheduled, organized activities as well. For example, Mind Your Body Oasis offers free yoga in the park at 7:00 am on Monday mornings during the warmer weather between May and September. And a local wine shop named Vintage Crystal sponsors events called “Wine in the Water Park,” which features interesting wine varietals and great live music on Fridays evenings in June and September.

Similar in a way to the plane watching in nearby Gravelly Point Park, another favorite activity in Crystal City Water Park is train watching. By walking up the path to the “observation deck” area on top of the park’s wall of water, you can see the trains go by on the three tracks that pass by the back of the park.  But unlike the planes at Gravelly Point, if you wave to the passing trains you may just get a wave back from the conductor and maybe a toot from the train whistle too if you’re lucky.

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The Washington & Old Dominion Rail Trail

The Washington & Old Dominion Rail Trail

The Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park is one of the skinniest but one of the longest parks in the commonwealth of Virginia. It is a regional park in Northern Virginia that is 44.8 miles long but only about 100 feet wide. The park encompasses the Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) Railroad Trail, which is a nearly 45-mile asphalt-surfaced paved rail trail that runs through densely populated urban and suburban communities like the villages of Falls Church and Leesburg, high-tech centers such as Reston and Herndon, as well as through rural areas. The park and its trails are administered and maintained by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA), with the assistance of The Friends of the Washington and Old Dominion Trail, a non-profit citizens organization dedicated to the preservation, enhancement and promotion of the trail.

The W&OD Trail begins in the Shirlington neighborhood of Arlington County, Virginia, near the intersection of South Shirlington Road and South Four Mile Run Drive (MAP).  At its trailhead, it connects to the paved Four Mile Run Trail, which travels eastward through Arlington along a stream embankment to meet the Mount Vernon Trail at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, near the Potomac River. This makes it easily accessible via the 14th Street Bridge for riders from D.C.  In fact, with the ability to then connect to the Rock Creek Park Trail, and then the Chesapeak & Ohio Canal and Towpath and the Great Alleghany Passage, it is possisble to travel from Purcelville to D.C., and then all the way to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a distance of 380 miles, entirely on trails without ever having to encounter cars or other motorized vehicle traffic.

The trail takes its name from the former Washington and Old Dominion Railroad, whose trains ran along the right-of-way from 1859 until 1968. The trail now travels on top of the rail bed of the former railroad. When the railroad ceased operations, the local power company bought the right-of-way for its electric power lines. After years of trying, the NVRPA was eventually able to acquire the use of sections of the railroad right-of-way for the trail. The first section of the W&OD Trail was opened in 1974 within the City of Falls Church. The multiuse trail proved to be so popular that the remaining sections were built, until its completion to Purcellville in 1988. The final section of the trail and near Arlington’s Bluemont Park was finally added in 2002. But even before its completion, it proved to be so popular that in 1987 the W&OD was designated a National Recreation Trail by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Along the trail are numerous attractions and sites to keep the ride interesting, including several former railroad stations and cabooses, as well as bridges, museums, an old lime kiln, stores, bike shops, and old Victorian houses visible from the trail. Numerous streams, wetlands, overlooks, culverts, and green spaces are also located along the W&OD, which are home a variety of plant life, including hundreds of species of wildflowers. Over 100 species of birds, as well as mammals such as foxes, river otters and beavers, and reptiles such as turtles and snakes also inhabit these areas. With few hills, the W&OD Trail is a perfect venue for a bike outing. And in stark contrast to riding in D.C., there is no vehicle traffic along the entire route.

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The Pentagon 9/11 Memorial

The Pentagon 9/11 Memorial

Today is the 13th anniversary of the Tuesday, September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, a series of four coordinated attacks launched by the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda against the United States, using four passenger airlines to attack targets in New York City and the D.C. metropolitan area. It is estimated that the attacks killed almost 3,000 people, and caused at least $10 billion in property and infrastructure damage.

In commemoration of the anniversary of the attacks, I rode to The Pentagon Memorial, which is located at 1 North Rotary Road (MAP) on the grounds of The Pentagon, just southwest of the main building in Arlington, Virginia. The Pentagon Memorial was opened to the public six years ago today, on September 11, 2008.

The Pentagon Memorial is a permanent outdoor memorial to the victims who died in the Pentagon, or were passengers or crew members aboard American Airlines Flight 77, which was crashed by the terrorists into the building as part of the attacks. The memorial’s design was developed by Julie Beckman and Keith Kaseman. Their vision for the Memorial was selected from more than 1,100 submissions by a panel of architects, family members, and public figures in the D.C. area, including two former Secretaries of Defense.

To honor the 184 victims, the main focus of the memorial consists of a corresponding number of cantilevered benches, which are illuminated, and made of stainless steel and inlaid with smooth granite. Each bench includes a shallow lighted pool of flowing water underneath it, and is engraved with the name of an individual victim. If more than one member of a family died during the attack, family names are listed in the reflecting pool under the bench in order to forever bind the family together. This is in addition to the separate benches that have been created for each individual family member. Symbolically, the benches representing the victims that were inside the Pentagon are arranged so those reading the names are facing the Pentagon’s south facade, where the plane struck. The benches dedicated to victims aboard the plane are arranged so that those reading the engraved name are facing skyward along the path the plane traveled.

The memorial also includes an “Age Wall” which encircles the area where the benches are located. The wall increases one inch per year in height above the perimeter bench relative to the age lines. As visitors move through the Memorial, the wall gets higher, growing from an initial height of three inches, representing the youngest victim, three year-old Dana Falkenberg.  Dana had just celebrated her third birthday, and was on Flight 77 along with her 9-year old sister Zoe, and their parents, Charles and Leslie. The wall progresses to a height of 71 inches, the age of John D. Yamnicky, Sr., the oldest of the 184 victims.  He was a retired Navy captain who was also on the plane.  He was enroute to a business meeting.  Inclusion of the age lines in the architectural design is intended to unify the victims without regard to their status as man or woman, military or civilian, rich or poor.

Other aspects of the Pentagon Memorial include flags, plaques, and walking paths. There are also 85 crape myrtle trees which are clustered around the memorial benches, but are not dedicated to any one victim. These trees will grow to a height of up to 30 feet, and will provide a canopy of shade over the Memorial for years to come.

Memorial services were also held at the Pentagon on this day, as they are on each anniversary of the attacks. A service for employees only is held in an auditorium inside the Pentagon. A smaller service is also held at the memorial site for family and friends of victims, as well as the public.

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Mary Ann Hall and Her Brothel

Mary Ann Hall and Her Brothel

On this bike ride I rode to one of D.C.’s brothels, which are also sometimes known as a bordellos, dens of iniquity, houses of ill repute, cathouses, houses of ill fame, bawdy houses, call houses, houses of assignation, and houses with red doors.  However, it was closed.  Actually, it closed well over a hundred years ago, but I stopped by the location where it once stood.

Despite being single and in just her early twenties, Mary Ann Hall settled, started a business, saved her money, and eventually built a large, three-story brick home at 349 Maryland Avenue (MAP) in the downtown area of southwest D.C., about four blocks west of the U.S. Capitol Building.  A 19th century entrepreneur, Mary Ann ran a successful brothel from the 1840s through the 1880s at this address, which was located on the site where the National Museum of the American Indian is currently located.

During a time when D.C. was largely devoid of economic opportunities for single women, Mary Ann’s business was very successful.  Of the 450 registered brothels in D.C. employing almost 5,000 prostitutes during the Civil War (with several thousand more in Georgetown and Alexandria), Mary Ann employed far more prostitutes than any other brothel in the city, and was the most successful.  It was also considered one of the finer establishments of its kind in D.C.

Life was good for Mary Ann.  From everything that is known about her, she enjoyed a varied and nutritious diet, including substantial amounts of meat, poultry and fish, as well as exotic fruits like coconuts and berries, foods which were for the most part unavailable to most people at that time.  She was also known to enjoy large quantities of French Champaign, and often vacationed at her summer home in Virginia’s “Alexandria County,” which is present-day land in Arlington where Marymount University is now located.

Mary Ann died where she lived her life here in D.C. in 1886 at the age of 71.  She never married nor had children, and because she had no heirs, a family feud erupted over her estate.  It is because of this that we have a detailed account of Mary Ann’s possessions.  D.C. court records show that at the time of her death, Mary Ann had no debts and was worth well over two million in today’s dollars. The records also show a list of her belongings, which included Belgian carpets, oil paintings, an ice box, numerous pieces of red plush furniture, as well as an inordinate number of sheets, mattresses, blankets, feather pillows and comforters.

When Mary Ann’s mother died in 1860, she was buried in Congressional Cemetery, where previously only members of Congress had been allowed to be buried.  Mary Ann’s highly ranked political connections from the brothel arranged for this.  When Mary Ann died six years later, she was also buried at Congressional Cemetery, near her mother, as well as her sister and other family members, at a family plot marked by “large and dignified” memorials.  So on today’s bike ride, I also stopped by Historic Congressional Cemetery (MAP) to visit her gravesite, located in section 67, not far from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s grave.

There are no known photographs to know exactly what Mary Ann looked like. And she didn’t keep a diary or write a memoir, nor did she leave a collection of personal or business correspondence, so that we could know her personality.  What is known about Mary Ann was learned from court records, census bureau documents, newspaper articles, and an archeological analysis of the area where her home once stood when it was excavated in 1999 so that the American Indian Museum could be built.

So although we know a lot about her life, we know very little about the person she was.  We do, however, get a glimpse of her from her obituary published in D.C.’s Evening Star newspaper, which sang her praises.  It reads, “With integrity unquestioned, a heart ever open to appeals of distress, a charity that was boundless, she is gone; but her memory will be kept green by many who knew her sterling worth.”

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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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The Alexandria Spite House

The Alexandria Spite House

A tiny landmark on Queen Street in the Old Town district of Alexandria, Virginia (MAP), the “Hollensbury Spite House” is just a short bike ride over the Potomac River from downtown D.C.

In 1830, John Hollensbury’s home in Alexandria, was one of two homes directly bordering an alleyway.  Annoyed by the amount of horse-drawn wagon traffic, drunken loiterers and other undesirable elements, Hollensbury built a second, small house in the alley just to block access and prevent people from using the alleyway.

Measuring in at a mere 7 feet wide, only about 25 feet deep, and a whopping 325 square feet in two stories, it is more of an enclosed alley than a house.  The brick walls of the older houses on either side form the painted brick walls in the spite house’s living room.  In fact, the spite house living room still has gouges in it from wagon-wheel hubs when it was an  alley.

Another interesting aspect of the house is the cast-iron fire mark on the front.  At the time the house was built, it signified that the owner paid the local fire company to ensure that it would respond to protect the house if it caught fire, or was insured so that the fire company knew they would be rewarded for saving that home.  History records a number of occasions back then when firemen allowed unprotected or uninsured houses to burn.

There are a number of spite houses throughout the country, including the Georgetown spite house in D.C., and the contemporary “Skinny House” in nearby Arlington, but the Hollensbury house is one of the narrowest spite houses still in existence today.

The Netherlands Carillon

The Netherlands Carillon

The daffodils are long gone, and the magnolia blossoms are mostly gone until next year too.  The cherry trees have already peeked, and although there are a few blooming trees remaining they are getting more and more difficult to find.  But there is still a lot of color to be found. After my recent ride to The National Park Service’s Floral Library I was inspired to seek out more spring flowers on this ride.  I found what I was looking for at the Netherlands Carillon.

Adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery and near the United States Marine Corps War Memorial, the Netherlands Carillon is located near the intersection of North Marshall Drive and North Meade Street in Arlington (MAP).  It is in Arlington Ridge Park and administered by the National Park Service as part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway complex.

The Netherlands Carillon was a gift from the people of the Netherlands to the people of the United States in 1954, given to thank the United States for its defense and aid during and after World War II.

The carillon’s bell tower is an open steel structure and is approximately 131 feet tall.  It contains 50 bells which combined weigh almost 31 tons.  A staircase leads to a glass-enclosed observatory platform and playing console about 82 feet from the ground.  The carillon plays Westminster Chimes on the hour and plays American patriotic music twice daily.  Special songs are played on May 5 (Dutch Liberation Day),on July 4 (Independence Day), on September 2 (V-J Day), and on Thanksgiving Day.  Other concerts and recitals are also performed on the carillon throughout the summer.

Tulips bloom from early April to the first week of May in the D.C. area, and the grounds of the Netherlands Carillon are particularly beautiful at this time, but a bike ride to the Netherlands Carillon is worthwhile at any time of the year.

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JFK (2)

The John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame

There are a number of  gravesites of famous people in the D.C. area, but perhaps none more iconic than that of President John F. Kennedy.  President Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, was assassinated at the age of 46 during a trip to Dallas, Texas, in 1963.  He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, which is located in Virginia (MAP), directly across the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial.  It has now been over 50 years since President Kennedy was killed, and on a recent bike ride I visited his gravesite and memorial.

The John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame is a Presidential memorial at the gravesite of President Kennedy.  The eternal flame was lighted by Mrs. Kennedy during her husband’s funeral, and burns from the center of a five-foot circular flat-granite stone at the head of the grave.  The fuel is natural gas and is mixed with a controlled quantity of air to achieve the color and shape of the flame.  The burner is a specially designed apparatus, containing a constantly flashing electric spark near the tip of the nozzle that relights the gas should the flame be extinguished by rain, wind or accident.

However, the eternal flame has been extinguished a couple of times by accident.  On December 10, 1963, a group of Catholic schoolchildren were sprinkling the flame with holy water when the cap came off the bottle and water poured onto the flame, putting it out. A cemetery official quickly relit the flame by hand.  Also, in August of 1967, an exceptionally heavy rain extinguished the flame.  A nearby electrical transformer flooded as well, depriving the spark igniter of power and preventing the flame from being relit.  After the rain ended, a cemetery official relit the flame by hand.

On May 23, 1994, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis was buried next to President Kennedy. The gravesite was completed with the addition of her grave marker on October 6, 1994.  Two deceased Kennedy children were also reburied with their parents at the gravesite in Arlington, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy from Brookline – who had predeceased President Kennedy by 15 weeks – and an unnamed stillborn daughter from Newport, Rhode Island.

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