Posts Tagged ‘Constitution Gardens’

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David’s Tent

Over the years as I have been riding a bike during my lunch breaks at work, I have periodically seen a large white tent erected in different parts of the downtown area of the city.  On it’s side there has been a sign which reads, “davidstent.dc.org“.  I first saw it about four years ago in President’s Park on The Ellipse near the White House.  Since that time I have intermittently seen it near John Marshal Place Park just off Constitution Avenue, as well as various other sites.  It is currently located on the National Mall just east of the pond in Constitution Gardens and about 100 yards due north of the National World War II Memorial (MAP), and within view of the White House.  On this ride I stopped in to learn more about it.

Jason Hershey founded David’s Tent DC in 2012 as a non-denominational Christian non-profit organization dedicated to performing public worship services.  That first year a service was to be held in the park at McPherson Square, but at the suggestion of the National Park Service it was moved to The Ellipse instead.  And although the Park Service had never given a permit for more than 14 days in that area, they granted David’s Tent a 45-day permit.  So it was that David’s Tent began with 40 days of continuous worship and praise.

When the organization decided to hold another event the following year, it again was located on The Ellipse.  However, that year the Federal government shut down due to the fact that no budget had been passed.  And in addition to closing most Federal departments and agencies, the first things to close were the National Parks, including the National Mall and The Ellipse.  I vividly remember during that time the news stories of attempts to keep World War II veterans from being allowed to visit the closed memorial that had been made to honor them.  Amazingly though, David’s Tent was allowed to continue uninterrupted.  That year they did it again for 42 days, which equates to being 1,000 hours long.

David’s Tent has continued ever year, and gotten bigger and longer in each consecutive year.  In 2014, the service was extended to 50 days, during which they prayed for each state for one day.

This time is the organization’s most ambitious event to date.  The tent was pitched in its current location last September 11th, and David’s Tent is committed to performing nonstop worship music on the National Mall for 14 months straight, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, until Election Day this November.  This weekend, they will reach the one year mark on their way to the goal of a 422-day worship service.  Hershey, the founder of David’s Tent, says there’s no political agenda behind the vigil despite its significant start and end dates, and its notable location in the heart of our nation’s capital.

David’s Tent is inspired by the biblical story of King David, who pitched a tent near his palace and hired more than 4,000 musicians and 288 singers to worship there continually throughout his 33-year reign. David made worship central for his nation, and it is said to have brought blessing on the whole nation. David’s Tent DC is attempting to do the same here in America.  So if you’re in downtown D.C. during the next few months, I encourage you to stop in, learn more, and participate.

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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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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.

The Vietnam Women's Memorial

The Vietnam Women’s Memorial

On this bike ride I stopped by the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, which is one of the three main components of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial complex; the other two being the The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall and The Three Soldiers Statue. It is located at 5 Henry Bacon Drive (MAP) in northwest D.C., in Constitution Gardens adjacent to the National Mall, just northeast of The Lincoln Memorial.

The Vietnam Women’s Memorial is a memorial dedicated to the women of the United States who served in the Vietnam War, most of whom were nurses.  In all, over 265,000 women served in the U.S. armed forces, with nearly 10,000 women in uniform actually served in-country during the Vietnam War. The Memorial is intended to serve as a reminder of the importance of women in the conflict.

The memorial statue depicts three uniformed women with a wounded soldier, creating a true sculpture in the round composition that is interesting from all angles. One of the nurses is shown as she serves as the life support for a wounded soldier lying across her lap. The standing woman looks up, in search of a med-i-vac helicopter or, perhaps, in search of help from God.  The fourth figure is a kneeling figure which the sculpture has called “the heart and soul” of the piece because so many vets see themselves in her as “she stares at any empty helmet, her posture reflecting her despair, frustrations, and all the horrors of war.”

The Vietnam Women’s Memorial was designed by Glenna Maxey Goodacre and dedicated in November of 1993, nine years after the Three Soldiers Statue was added to the Memorial Wall, which had been dedicated two years earlier.  This gives it the distinction of being a first in our nation’s capitol, and in our nation.  Unveiled and dedicated four years prior to the Women In Military Service For America Memorial, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial was the first memorial in American history to honor women’s patriotic service.

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The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall

On this day in 1957, U.S. military personnel suffered their first casualties of the Vietnam War when 13 Americans were wounded in three terrorist bombings of Military Assistance Advisory Group and U.S. Information Service installations in Saigon. The rising tide of guerrilla activity in South Vietnam reached an estimated 30 terrorist incidents by the end of the year and at least 75 local officials were assassinated or kidnapped in the last quarter of 1957. Unfortunately, this was just the beginning for the U.S. By the end of the war in 1975, estimates for the total U.S. casualties during the Vietnam War are 58,286 killed in action or non-combat deaths (including the missing and deaths in captivity), 153,303 wounded in action, and 1,645 missing in action.

In addition to U.S. casualties, estimates place the number of deaths for the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the Viet Cong at 1.1 million, while 220,357 were killed in action from the Republic of Vietnam. It is also estimated that 4,407 from the Republic of Korea, 487 from Australia. 351 from Thailand, 37 New Zealanders, and 30,000 Laotian Meo/Hmong were killed.  Additionally, estimates place the number of civilian deaths between 195,000-430,000 in South Vietnam, and 50,000-65,000 in North Vietnam.

In remembrance of the events of this day and in honor of those who served and sacrificed, on this lunchtime bike ride I rode to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. Located in Constitution Gardens adjacent to the National Mall, just northeast of the Lincoln Memorial (MAP), the Memorial Wall is the best-known part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial complex, which also includes The Three Soldiers Statue and The Vietnam Women’s Memorial.

The Memorial Wall is comprised of two gabbro walls which total 246 feet 9 inches in length. The walls are sunk into the ground, with the earth behind them.  At the apex where they meet which is the highest point, they are 10.1 feet high. They taper to a height of only 8 inches at either end. One wall points toward The Washington Monument, the other in the direction of the Lincoln Memorial, and they meet in the middle. Each wall has 72 inscribed panels, with the two very small blank panels at the extremities remaining blank.

Inscribed on the panels are the names of servicemen who were either confirmed to be killed in action or remained classified as missing in action when the walls were constructed. The 58,272 names, which includes 8 women, are listed in chronological order. The names include approximately 1,200 who are listed as missing. The names of the missing are denoted with a cross. If they return alive, although this has thus far never occurred, the cross would be circumscribed by a circle. If their death is confirmed, a diamond will be superimposed over the cross.

The wall is made from highly reflective stone so that when a visitor looks upon it, his or her reflection can be seen simultaneously with the engraved names. This is meant to symbolically bring the past and present together. However, if you are unable to experience and see the Wall in person, there is a half size replica called The Moving Wall, which periodically visit hundreds of small towns and cities throughout the country from April through November, spending five or six days at each site. Veterans groups have subsequently created additional traveling replicas, which include The Traveling Wall created by the American Veterans Traveling Tribute, The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall by Vietnam and All Veterans of Brevard, Inc, and The Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall by Dignity Memorial. Fixed replicas have also been built in Wildwood, New Jersey and Winfield, Kansas.

There are also other resources and virtual versions of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall that can be found online, including The Virtual Wall Vietnam Veterans Memorial , The Wall of Faces  and The Wall – USA.  These sites are intended to “bring the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to your home to help remember the sacrifices of the fallen and their families.” 

So take a few minutes to visit D.C.’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, or one of the travelling or virtual walls, and remember the 58,272 individuals who are honored, including the ten different people on the wall who were killed on this day during the war.  They are John Dominick Arquillo (age 21), William Olen Austin (19), John Thomas Baker (20), Alexander Beard (28), John David Belles (20), Guy Lester Bellew (35), Gary Lee Binder (20), Murray Lyman Borden (25), Robert White Boyd (23), and John Wesley Brooks (19).

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The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool

The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool

On this ride I went by the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, located on the National Mall directly east of the Lincoln Memorial (MAP), with The Washington Monument to the east of the reflecting pool.  It is lined by walking paths and shade trees on both sides.  Depending on the viewer’s vantage point, it dramatically reflects the Lincoln Memorial, as well as the Washington Monument, the Mall’s trees, and the expansive sky above D.C.

The Reflecting Pool was designed by American architect Henry Bacon, who also designed The Lincoln Memorial.  It was constructed beginning in 1922, following the dedication of the President Lincoln’s Memorial, and completed the following year.  At over a third of a mile long and 167 feet wide, with a a depth of approximately 18 inches on the sides and 30 inches in the center, the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool is the largest of the many reflecting pools in D.C.

A few years ago the National Park Service determined that the Reflecting Pool’s massive weight had begun to cause it to leak and sink, while the approximately 6,750,000 gallons of water in it had become stagnant.  As a result, it underwent an extensive rennovation.  The massive project , which was part of President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, shut down a large swath of the National Mall for almost two years as the old pool was removed and the new one constructed.  The Reflecting Pool reopened just before Labor Day in 2012.

The newly renovated landmark remains the largest in D.C., but is shallower than the original, measuring less than three feet at its deepest point.  This not only makes it lighter but saves water as well. Its bottom is tinted gray to make the water darker and more reflective.  And the new pool has been reengineered with a circulation and filtration system. So instead of continuing to use city water, it draws river water from the nearby Tidal Basin, conserving approximately 20 million gallons of drinking water each year.

As a result of the renovation project, the grounds also include new security features to prevent a vehicle from reaching the Lincoln Memorial for a potential terrorist attack, like the one which occurred in 2003 when an angry tobacco farmer from North Carolina named Dwight Ware Watson brought much of the nation’s capitol to a standstill for two days when he drove a tractor into the pond in the nearby Constitution Gardens area of the National Mall and claimed to have explosives.

When visiting the Reflecting Pool, one cannot help but reflect on the rich history of events that have taken place there.  Included in the long list of events are when singer Marian Anderson sang at an open air concert on Easter Sunday in 1939, because she had been denied permission to perform at D.C.’s Constitution Hall because she was African American.  On August 28, 1963, the Reflecting Pool was also the site of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered from the steps of the memorial to a crowd of 250,000 people during the Civil Rights Movement’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. And several protests against the Vietnam War took place in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s around the Reflection Pool, attracting hundreds of thousands of protestors.  These and many other events make the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool a site for reflection in more ways than one.

The Three Soldiers

The Three Soldiers


The Three Soldiers, also known as The Three Servicemen, is a bronze sculpture created by Frederick Hart.  It is located in Constitution Gardens adjacent to the National Mall near The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall (MAP).  Along with the Memorial Wall and The Vietnam Women’s Memorial, The Three Soldiers statue is part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial complex.  Created to complement and bring a more traditional component to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the soldiers depicted by the statue appear to be looking at the Memorial Wall containing the names of more than 58,000 of their fallen and missing comrades.  Dedicated in 1984, it was added as part of the Memorial two years after completion of the Wall.  But like most things in D.C., the installation of statue was not without disagreement and controversy.    

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was designed by Maya Lin, who won a national competition held to select a design for the memorial.  However, despite the selection of Lin’s design and its many supporters, her design also met with many negative reactions.  Several Congressmen complained, and Secretary of the Interior James G. Watt refused to issue a building permit so that construction of the Memorial could begin.  Also, Vietnam veterans were divided in their opinions about the memorial’s design, much like the country itself was during the war.

The Three Soldiers sculpture was commissioned to stand beside the wall in as a compromise, an attempt to appease those who wanted a more traditional memorial.  The designer of the Memorial Wall, Maya Lin, was so displeased with the addition to her design, that even after the decision was made to place the statue a distance away from the Wall so as to minimize the impact on her design, she still refused to attend the dedication of the sculpture when it was unveiled on Veterans Day in 1984.

Controversy continued when it was discovered that Hart, who had placed third in the original memorial design competition, was paid four times as much for The Three Soldiers statue as Maya Lin had received for the prize-winning design of the Memorial Wall.

Today, most visitors to the memorial complex are unaware of the controversy that went into it.  Along with the Memorial Wall, the sculpture now serves as a symbol of our nation’s honor and recognition of those who served and sacrificed during the Vietnam War.

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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