Posts Tagged ‘Constitution Avenue’

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Memorial to the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence

Memorials to historic figures of national significance are commonplace in D.C., but the memorial I visited on this lunchtime bike ride is dedicated to one of the most select group of important people in our nation’s history. It is known as the Memorial to the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence, it is located on the island in the lake located in Constitution Gardens, which occupies 50 prime acres of landscaped grounds approximately halfway between The Washington Monument and The Lincoln Memorial. Located to the west of 17th Street and south of Constitution Avenue in northwest D.C. (MAP), the gardens are bordered on the west by The Vietnam Veterans Memorial and on the south by The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. But despite its central location on the National Mall, it is a quiet haven in the heart of the bustling capital city.

The memorial was a gift from the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration, and consists of 56 granite blocks which are inscribed with the signatures of the 56 delegates to the Second Continental Congress who signed the Declaration of Independence. Each stone also contains the corresponding signer’s occupation and his home town. The signatures look just like the original pen and ink signatures which are on the bottom of the Declaration of Independence. The granite blocks are then arranged in 13 groups, representing the 13 original states, and are grouped based on the home of the signer. It was designed by Landscape Architect Joseph E. Brown, approved by Congress in 1978, and construction was completed in 1984. It was then dedicated on July 2, 1984, exactly 208 years after the Continental Congress voted to approve the Declaration of Independence.

Although Thomas Jefferson is often considered to be the “author” of the Declaration of Independence, he wasn’t the only person who contributed to its content. Jefferson was a member of a five-person committee appointed by the Continental Congress to write a Declaration of Independence. In addition to Jefferson, the Declaration Committee included Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman.  However, one of the members of the committee, never signed it.  Livingston believed that it was too soon to declare independence and, therefore, refused to sign it.  So although he is one of its authors, Livingston was not included in this memorial.

After Jefferson completed the first draft of the Declaration of Independence the other members of the Declaration committee and the Continental Congress made 86 changes to Jefferson’s draft, including shortening the overall length by more than a quarter. Jefferson was quite unhappy about some of the edits made to the original draft.  He had originally included language condemning the British promotion of the slave trade, even though Jefferson himself was a slave owner. This criticism of the slave trade was one of the portions removed from the final version, despite Jefferson’s objections.

Depending on perspective and how it was perceived at the time, the Declaration of Independence was considered to either form the foundation of a new, independent country, or as a document of treason against the King of England. And had events turned out differently, the only stones commemorating these “Founding Fathers” would have been their gravestones. But despite their success in launching the United States of America, many of these men paid a very steep price for signing the document and their involvement in the birth of this new nation.

Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, a number saw their homes and property occupied, ransacked, looted, and vandalized by the British. Some were captured by the British during the course of the Revolutionary War, and subjected to the ill treatment typically afforded to prisoners of war during their captivity. Others saw their sons captured or killed while serving in the Revolutionary Army. Some even saw their wives captured and jailed by the British. But despite what they would go on to sacrifice, each man, by signing the document, pledged: “For the support of this declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of the divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”  It was this commitment that is honored in this memorial.

However, one of the signers, a lawyer from New Jersey named Richard Stockton, became the only signer of the Declaration of Independence to recant his support of the revolution. On November 30, 1776, he was captured by the British and thrown in jail. After months of harsh treatment and meager rations, Stockton repudiated his signature on the Declaration of Independence and swore his allegiance to King George III. A broken man when he regained his freedom, he took a new oath of loyalty to the state of New Jersey in December 1777, and again supported the Revolution until victory was achieved in September of 1783.  Despite once repudiating his signature and recanting his support for the Revolution, Stockton is nonetheless included on the memorial.

So this Memorial to the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence does not include one of the authors of the Declaration, but does include a signer who later repudiated his signature.  I guess this just highlights how complex our “Founding Fathers” actually were.

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

In addition to the famously prominent signature of John Hancock from Massachusetts, the President of the Continental Congress, the remaining signatories of the Declaration of Independence consisted of: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple and Matthew Thornton (who was the last man to sign the document, on November 4, 1776), all from the state of New Hampshire; Samuel Adams, John Adams (who later became the second President), Robert Treat Paine and Elbridge Gerry from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; Stephen Hopkins and William Ellery from the state of Rhode Island; Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams and Oliver Wolcott from the state of Connecticut; William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis and Lewis Morris from the state of New York; Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart and Abraham Clark from the state of New Jersey; Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin (who, at the age of 70, was the oldest to sign the Declaration), John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson and George Ross, all from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; George Read, Caesar Rodney and Thomas McKean from the state of Delaware; Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, from the state of Maryland; George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson (who later became the third President), Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee and Carter Braxton from the Commonwealth of Virginia; William Hooper, Joseph Hewes and John Penn from the state of North Carolina; Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr. (who at 26 years old was the youngest person to sign), and Arthur Middleton from the state of South Carolina, and; Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall and George Walton from the state of Georgia.

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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 March for Life

The March for Life

Occasionally the destination for my daily lunchtime bike ride is an event rather than a location. That was the case for this ride, as it is every January 22nd, when the “March for Life” takes place in D.C. The March for Life is an annual event which began as a small demonstration on the first anniversary of U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the cases known as Roe v Wade and Doe v Bolton, which were landmark decisions on the issue of abortion.  Over the years the March for Life has grown to include numerous other cities in the United States and throughout the world. The March in D.C., however, has become and remains the largest pro-life event in the world.

The first March for Life was founded by Nellie Gray, a lawyer and employee of the Federal government for 28 years, who after the Supreme Court decisions chose to retired and become a pro-life activist. The event was held on January 22, 1974, on the West Steps of the U.S. Capitol Building, with an estimated 20,000 supporters in attendance. Over the years, the attendance has increased substantially, with recent estimates of well in excess of a half a million participants. And it is estimated that about half of the marchers are under age 30, with many teenagers and college students attending the march each year, typically traveling with church and other youth groups.

The day’s events usually begin at noon with a rally on the National Mall, which features prominent activists, celebrities, and politicians. In some past years it has even including addresses by U.S. Presidents, including Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.  President Barack Obama has been invited, but chose instead to decline and issue a pro-abortion written statement.  The rally is followed by the march, which begins near Fourth Street and travels down Constitution Avenue, turns right at First Street and proceeds past the U.S. Capitol Building, before ending on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court Building.  Another rally is then held in front of the Supreme Court Building, which features accounts from women who regret their abortion, referred to as “Silent No More” testimonies.

Many other associated events also take place in D.C. each year during the week in which the March is held. Various pro-life organizations hold events such as a candlelight vigil at the Supreme Court building, church and prayer services, educational conferences, and visits to lobby Congressional representatives. A dinner is also held each year, hosted by The March for Life Education and Defense Fund, which is the primary organizer for the March. An organization named Students for Life of America, which is the largest association of pro-life groups or clubs on college campuses, also holds an annual conference in D.C. for pro-life youth on the week of the march.

In recent years, the March for Life has chosen to focus on a theme in order to bring attention to specific aspects of the issue. Coinciding with this year’s 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the March for Life 2015 theme is “Every Life is a Gift,” with a special focus on babies who are diagnosed in the womb with a disability or fetal abnormality. Statistics indicate that this population is at the greatest risk for abortion, with studies indicating that approximately 85% of these pregnancies are ended by abortion, compared with the national abortion average of approximately 20%.

During this week that began with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal holiday, I also found it noteworthy that his niece, Dr. Alveda King, was a prominent participant in the March for Life.  Dr. Alveda King is a civil rights advocate, NAACP member, author, and Christian minister.  In her capacity as a full-time Pastoral Associate of African-American Outreach for the Roman Catholic group, Priests for Life, she is also a staunch and outspoken pro-life advocate.

March for Life has received relatively little attention from the press or mainstream media over the years. So to counter the relative lack of coverage, one of the March for Life’s supporters, The Family Research Council, organized what it called a Blogs for Life conference several years ago, which took place in D.C. and was one of the March for Life week’s events in 2011. The main goal of the conference was to “bring pro-life bloggers together to discuss strategies for securing more effective media coverage and advancing anti-abortion issues. Such strategies include securing media coverage through legislative means or by tapping into the new media outlets of the future, such as blogging.

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The Ice Skating Rink at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden

The Ice Skating Rink at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden

The circular reflecting pool at the center of the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden is transformed during the cold winter months each year into an outdoor ice skating rink. It has become an extremely popular winter destination, particularly for skating enthusiasts. And although I am not an ice skater myself, it was also my destination, at least for this lunchtime bike ride.

Ice skating has been a popular activity on the National Mall for well over a hundred years, with unofficial skating sites located at the Tidal Basin and The Reflecting Pool in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, the actual ice skating rink did not open until 1974. And it did not open in its current form until 1999. Because the ice rink had been operating at the site since for more than twenty years, it was included in the National Gallery of Art’s plans for the Sculpture Garden when it was conceived in 1996.

In its current location as part of the Sculpture Garden, visitors have the opportunity to skate while surrounded not only by the grand architecture of national museums and monuments, but by large outdoor sculptures and exhibits displayed by the National Gallery of Art. These sculptures include works by world-renowned artists, such as “Four-Sided Pyramid” by Sol LeWitt and Claes Oldenburg’s “Typewriter Eraser, Scale X“, to name just a couple. In all, there are nineteen works of modern and contemporary sculpture on the richly landscaped grounds surrounding the ice rink.

The ice rink can accommodate more than two hundred skaters, with a music system that brings vibrant sound to visitors on and off the ice. And at night, lighting further contributes to the festive atmosphere. This year, the gallery’s guest services will offer both skating and ice hockey lessons, for which students can register individually or with a group. There is also a snack shop named the Pavilion Café, which offers a panoramic view of the Sculpture Garden and ice rink in addition to a variety of food and beverages.

Located just off the National Mall at 700 Constitution Avenue (MAP) in downtown, D.C., the ice rink opened in mid-November and will remain open through March 16, 2015, weather permitting. The rink is open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. On Sunday, it’s open from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. The ice-skating rink will close at 5:00 p.m. Christmas Eve, and will be closed on December 25 and January 1. Admission for a two hour session costs $8 for adults. And if you don’t have your own skates, they can be rented for an additional $3. A season pass that covers unlimited access to the ice rink is also available for $195.

Whether you’re an avid skater or have never tried it before, I highly recommend visiting the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden Ice Skating Rink at least once this winter. Who knows, you may enjoy it so much that, like many other people already have, you’ll want to make it an annual winter tradition.

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The Smithsonian Butterfly Habitat Garden

The Smithsonian Butterfly Habitat Garden

The Smithsonian Butterfly Habitat Garden is an 11,000-square foot area that supports a variety of plant species which have specific associations and relationships to life cycles of butterflies indigenous to the eastern United States.  Built in 1999, the garden contains four distinct habitats, consisting of wetland, meadow, wood’s edge and urban gardens.  Each of these habitats is planted with alluring flowers, foliage, grasses and water features that provide sustenance, shelter, or other necessities for the butterflies.  The plants are chosen and maintained to demonstrate the partnerships between plants and butterflies.

The garden is just a block long with two parallel paths leading through it, and many see the walkways as just a quick cut-through to the street on the other side.  But a slower pace is worth the time.  The garden contains a multitude of artfully enameled signs with text and illustrations that identify the plants and interpret their particular relationships with different butterflies

The appeal and significance of the garden is found not only in the beauty of the plant species themselves, but in the butterflies which are attracted to and dependent on them.  The Butterfly Habitat Garden offers the added bonus of being able to observe the regular visits from several dozen different types of butterflies, which vary from year to year depending on their populations.  The winged visitors include Monarchs, skippers, swallowtails, and Red Admirals.  And with tours available on a regular basis from June through September, repeat visitors can view the actual butterfly life cycle and gain insight into the miraculous metamorphosis of the butterfly species.  During the winter months or other times when butterflies are not readily available in the outdoor garden, there is a butterfly exhibit within the nearby National Museum of Natural History, where guests are allowed to go inside the controlled environment “Butterfly Pavilion” which houses butterflies year round.  The ironically named Orkin Insect Zoo is also located in the museum, and is also worth a visit.

The Smithsonian Butterfly Habitat Garden is located on the east side of the Natural History Museum building, at 9th Street between Constitution Avenue and the National Mall (MAP) in downtown D.C.  The garden is accessible and free to the public, and is always open.

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

 

Constitution Gardens

Constitution Gardens

Mostly unknown and overlooked by the millions of tourists visiting the many other nearby memorials on the National Mall, Constitution Gardens occupies 50 prime acres of landscaped grounds approximately halfway between The Washington Monument and The Lincoln Memorial, and includes a lake with an island, winding sidewalks and pathways lined with benches,  and approximately 5,000 oak, maple, dogwood, elm and crabapple trees.  Located to the west of 17th Street and south of Constitution Avenue in northwest D.C. (MAP), the gardens are bordered on the west by The Vietnam Veterans Memorial and on the south by The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.  But despite its central location on the National Mall, it is a quiet haven in the heart of the bustling capital city.  

The land that became Constitution Gardens was originally submerged beneath the Potomac River, but was dredged at the beginning of the 20th century by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  The land then became the location for the Navy’s main and munitions buildings until 1970 when President Richard Nixon, who had once who had served in the offices as a navy officer, ordered his former workplace to be torn down to make way for a park to be established on the land.  In 1976, Constitution Gardens was finally dedicated as part of America’s Bicentennial celebration as a “living legacy tribute.”  It has been a separate park unit in the National Park Service since 1982.

In contrast to its normally peaceful setting, Constitution Gardens became the site of a bizarre standoff between Federal law enforcement officers and a disgruntled tobacco farmer named Dwight Watson during two days in mid-March back in 2003.  Watson, a tobacco farmer from North Carolina, blamed Federal tobacco policies and the cutting of tobacco subsidies for the increasing difficulty he was experiencing in making a living on his rural tobacco farm, which had been in his family for five generations.  Wearing a military helmet and displaying an upside down American flag, the disgruntled farmer travelled to D.C. and drove his tractor into the center of the lake, claiming that he had explosives.  This prompted the evacuation of the area and holding a SWAT team composed of approximately 200 FBI Agents and Park Police officers at bay for 48 hours before he surrendered.  Watson was eventually convicted of destroying federal property for digging up part of the island and damaging a retaining wall during the standoff, but no other monuments or memorials were harmed.

The more often than not tranquil Constitution Gardens becomes uncharacteristically full of activity each year when it is the site of an annual naturalization ceremony for new U.S. citizens hosted by the National Park Service.  But on the day I rode there, it was just as I hoped it would be – virtually deserted, except for a family of geese and a few mallard ducks.

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The Albert Einstein Memorial

Albert Einstein once said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” In reference to the theory of relativity, Einstein also said, “I thought of that while riding my bicycle.” So to commemorate his undeniable wisdom, as well as today’s anniversary of his birth in 1879, I went to The Albert Einstein Memorial on this afternoon’s bike ride.

The Einstein Memorial is a monumental bronze statue depicting Albert Einstein seated with manuscript papers in hand.  The bronze figure weighs approximately 4 tons, and measures 21 feet from the top of its head to the tip of its feet. The monument is supported by three caissons, totaling 135 tons, sunk in bedrock to a depth of 23 to 25 feet. The statue and bench are at one side of a circular dais, 28 feet in diameter. And embedded in the dais are more than 2,700 metal studs representing astronomical objects, including the sun, moon, planets, 4 asteroids, 5 galaxies, 10 quasars, and many stars in their relative celestial position at the exact time that the memorial was dedicated.

The memorial is situated in an elm and holly grove in the southwest corner on the grounds of the National Academy of Sciences on Constitution Avenue in D.C. (MAP).  Einstein was elected a foreign associate of the Academy in 1922 and became a member in 1942, two years after he became a naturalized United States citizen.

By the way, Einstein is known for more than just his quotes about bicycles. He’s also known for his theories of special and general relativity, which drastically altered man’s view of the universe, and for his work in particle and energy theory which helped make possible quantum mechanics and, ultimately, the atomic bomb.

If you go to see the memorial for this genius, keep in mind that it’s said if you rub the nose of the Albert Einstein statue, you’ll acquire some of his smarts.  And judging by the appearance of his nose, a lot of people believe this and have rubbed it.

But today, March 14, is not just the birthday of the famous German-born theoretical physicist and mathematician.  It is also National Pi Day.  National Pi Day is actually a U.S. holiday. The House of Representatives passed House Resolution 224 in 2009, designating March 14 as National Pi Day.

Pi (pronounced “pie”) is the ratio used to compute the circumference, area, and volume of circles, and is a mathematical constant.  It is an irrational number, continuing infinitely without repeating. It is usually estimated to the hundredths place (3.14), but with the use of computers, pi has been calculated to over 2 trillion digits past the decimal.  So today’s date, when expressed in the decimal format as 3.14, is is the rounded-off numerical equivalent of the value of Pi.  Extended out by its next three additional digits of 1, 5 and 9, and you have “Pi minute” at 1:59pm.

So to celebrate today’s double holiday, I first stopped by a restaurant named District of Pi, located at 910 F Street in Penn Quarter (MAP), where I got my order to go.  I got a thin crust pizza pie with mozzarella, Italian meatballs, red peppers, and basil.  It was then that I rode over to the Einstein Memorial, where I enjoyed a pizza pie picnic lunch on National Pi Day while relaxing at the memorial at Pi Minute.

Despite how fun today’s Pi Day ride was, next year’s National Pi Day will be even more exciting.  On that day, we will all get one, shining moment in which we can write the date as: 3/14/15; 9:26:53. Which, as everyone knows, are the first ten digits of Pi in perfect order.

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