Posts Tagged ‘DC’

Earth Day Park

During this lunchtime bike ride, I discovered a very small park wedged into a narrow strip of land along 9th Street, stretching from Independence Avenue to C Street (MAP), and situated between the Federal Aviation Administration Building and the U.S. Department of Energy Building.  The land also serves as the roof of  the Interstate-395 Tunnel.  A small sign at the northern end identified it as Earth Day Park.  Having passed by it many times without ever noticing or hearing about it before, I decided I needed to find out more.    

It turns out that the park was a combined effort of several government agencies, including the U.S. Energy Department, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the General Services Administration, and the D.C. Department of Transportation.  Apparently enough employees from the adjacent government buildings, including Department of Energy Secretary Hazel R. O’Leary, had gotten tired of seeing the neglect of this weedy, trash-strewn piece of land located adjacent to their buildings.  So contact was made with the General Services Administration, which manages and supports the land and buildings and basic functioning of federal agencies, who then coordinated the building of the park with the D.C. Department of Transportation, who owned the land.

Earth Day Park has a number of unusual aspects to it.  As part of the celebration of Earth Day 1994 President Bill Clinton outlined a series of recommendations for Federal agencies to increase “Environmentally and economically beneficial policies on Federal landscaped grounds.”  Earth Day Park embodies these “greening” principles.

The park utilizes solar energy, including an array of photovoltaic cells on top of the sign at the front of the park,  in providing electricity for the lamp posts and lighting.  The park also incorporates the use of different plants.  For example, it uses dwarf ornamental grass instead of lawn perennials and annuals, reducing the need for gasoline powered mowers, edgers and trimmers along with fertilizers and pesticides.  The park’s use of mulch and drought tolerant plant species, as well as the raised beds, allows for moisture to be retained by the soil, thus conserving water.   And the use of regional plant material, adapted to local climate and biological conditions,  provides a unique ecosystem that increases the rate of success of the plants.

And because of the incorporation of these principles, Earth Day Park requires far less maintenance than that of a traditionally developed park, making it a truly “green” park.

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

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The Prophet Daniel

The prophet Daniel is the hero of the Book of Daniel in the canon of sacred Jewish writings and the Christian Bible, who was a celebrated Jewish scholar, a master interpreter of dreams, and who received apocalyptic visions.  He is one of four Major Prophets in Hebrew Scripture, along with Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.   And he is famous for successfully interpreting the proverbial “writing on the wall” and for miraculously surviving being thrown into the lions’ den.

During this lunchtime bike ride I discovered a statue of the prophet Daniel.  But it was not located at a synagogue or church, as you might expect.  The statue is displayed on the grounds of The Organization of American States, located at  200 17th Street (MAP) in Downtown D.C.  The 8-foot tall statue is made from concrete, and is based on an original 1805 soapstone sculpture by Antonio Francisco Lisboa,  better known as “Aleijadinho,” a sculptor and architect of Colonial Brazil.  It was a gift to the Organization of American States from the government of Brazil, and dedicated in 1962.

I decided to learn a little more about Daniel later when I got home.  But there is so much known about him from his writings and from history that I will only include a few of the more interesting highlights here.

  • Daniel was a good-looking man.  We know this because King Nebuchadnezzar’s criteria for serving in his court included physical appearance, and Daniel makes the grade.
  • Daniel was renowned for his wisdom and intelligence.
  • Daniel was descendant of the royal family of David.
  • Perhaps most appropriate for D.C., Daniel was a government official.  He served in Babylon under four kings: Nebuchadnezzar; Belshazzar; Darius the Mede, and; Cyrus the Persian.
  • And finally, and absolutely shocking for government official in this city, Daniel was scandal free.  In fact, when his political opponents tried to get dirt on him, their only option was to make it illegal to obey God.

 

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C&O Canal Completion Marker

The Washington Monument is an iconic obelisk that for many symbolizes the city of D.C.   But it is not the oldest obelisk in the city.  That honor goes to the one enclosed by a cast iron fence on the northwest corner of the Wisconsin Avenue Bridge (MAP), located in the city’s Georgetown neighborhood, that commemorates the completion of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal.  The C&O Canal’s monument is approximately ten feet tall, and was dedicated in 1850.  While that was two years after construction began on The Washington Monument, enormous structures necessarily take more time to build and the 555-foot Washington Monument wasn’t completed until 1885.

Despite being right next to a sidewalk along one of the busy streets of Georgetown, the C&O Canal obelisk is often overlooked these days by impatient passersby as they hurry along their way.  The canal itself is often overlooked as well, considered just part of the scenery.  But in its heyday the canal, also known as the “Grand Old Ditch,” was one of the primary modes of transporting materials into and out of the city for almost a century, operating from 1831 until 1924 along the Potomac River from D.C., to Cumberland, Maryland.

Throughout the canal’s 184.5 mile length the elevation change rises and falls a total of 605 feet, which necessitated the construction of 74 canal locks (a device used for raising and lowering boats, ships and other watercraft between stretches of water of different levels), 11 aqueducts (bridge structures that carry navigable waterway canals over obstacles) to cross major streams, and more than 240 culverts (structures that allows water to flow under an obstacle) to cross smaller streams.  A 3,118-foot-long tunnel, named the Paw Paw Tunnel, was also constructed to allow the canal to bypass the Paw Paw Bends, a six-mile stretch of the Potomac River containing five horseshoe-shaped bends.  An extension of the canal to the Ohio River at Pittsburgh was planned but never built.

While in operation the canal was integral to transporting sand, gravel, clay, paving stones, fire bricks, cement and lumber for construction of the expanding city, as well as bringing slaughtered hogs and meat, fresh and salted fish, flour, oats and grains, corn meal, whiskey and spirits, as well as coal from the Allegheny Mountains and other general merchandise to feed and provide for the city’s burgeoning population.

Without the canal, the city would not be what it is today.  That’s a lot of significance symbolized by a small, overlooked obelisk.

    

    
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Note:  The canal way is now maintained as the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, with a multi-use trail that follows the old towpath.  The canal and towpath trail parallels the Potomac River and extends from D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland, a distance of 184.5 miles.  Together with the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage, a rail trail where the extension of the C&O Canal to Pittsburgh would have been if it had been completed, they form a continuous 334.5-mile trail between D.C. and Pittsburgh.

The Cenotaphs at Historic Congressional Cemetery

I have found that cemeteries are often bastions of history, especially here in D.C.  The graves of the many historic figures, politicians and famous people buried here provide a portal to the history that they lived.  But Historic Congressional Cemetery, located at 1801 E Street in southeast D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood (MAP), and which happens to be one of my favorite cemeteries in the city, also has a number of cenotaphs that also point to a wealth of history.  And it was the cemetery’s 165 cenotaphs that were the destination and purpose of my lunchtime bike ride today.

Traditionally, the word “cenotaph” is defined as A cenotaph is an “empty tomb” or a monument erected in honor of a person or group of people whose remains are elsewhere. It can also be the initial tomb for a person who has since been interred elsewhere.  As used at the Congressional Cemetery, the term cenotaph includes not only those that fall under the traditional definition, but also to monuments that mark the actual graves of representatives and senators who died in office during the first several decades of the nation’s history. Some congressmen are buried under a cenotaph, some are buried with a headstone instead of a cenotaph in a different area of the cemetery, and for some the marker is a true cenotaph. And one individual, a Revolutionary War soldier and Congressman from North Carolina named James Gillespie, who was reinterred in 1892, has a separate grave and cenotaph.

Designed by architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe, who was then working on the new south wing of the U.S. Capitol Building, the cenotaphs are constructed of Aquia sandstone, as are The White House and the Capitol Building, and were likewise painted white, forming a visual connection with these nearby symbols of Federal government, and a contrast to the cemetery’s surrounding gravestones. They are grouped in rows in the older part of the cemetery near the main entrance, where they dominate the landscape.

A cenotaph was erected at Congressional Cemetery for each congressman who died in office from 1833 to 1876. The first was for Congressman James Lent from New York, who was initially interred in the cemetery. But after Congress appropriated funds and his monument was ordered, his family had his body brought back and reinterred in New York. Congress erected the monument in 1839 anyway, establishing the tradition of erecting cenotaphs.

After the Civil War very few congressmen were buried in the cemetery, as their bodies were commonly shipped to their home states or buried in the new United States National Cemetery System, in cemeteries such as Arlington National Cemetery. And cenotaphs were discontinued for the most part in 1876, after Massachusetts Senator George Frisbie Hoar stated that “the thought of being buried beneath one of those atrocities brought new terror to death.”

Since that time, only two new cenotaphs have been erected at the cemetery. After a 1972 plane crash in which their bodies were unable to be recovered, Thomas Hale Boggs Sr., the majority leader in the House at the time, and Nick Begich, a Congressman from Alaska, share a cenotaph. And the last one to date is for former Speaker of the House Thomas P “Tip” O’Neill, Jr., who was honored with a cenotaph in 1994, although it is not in the style of the Latrobe cenotaphs.

A Mobile Art Museum

As I was riding my bike this afternoon though Downtown D.C., I found myself in an area named City Center (MAP), which is a unique, pedestrian-friendly, 10-acre mixed-use project developed by Hines and Qatari Diar.  The City Center project is home to more than 191,000 square feet of retail stores and restaurants, 520,000 square feet of office space, 458 rental apartment units and 216 condominium units, a 1,550 space parking garage, a public park, a central plaza and pedestrian-oriented streets and alleyways.  Additionally, construction of a 370-room luxury hotel, The Conrad, with 30,000 square feet of additional retail space, is almost complete and expected to open later this year.

But I had been to City Center before, and it was none of these things that captured my attention.  What interested me most during today’s ride was a blue, industrial-looking cargo container set up in the park area of the development.  It was open on one end, and people were going in and out of it.  So naturally I was curious and had to find out what it was and what was going on.  So upon closer inspection I was able to find out that it was a mobile art museum sponsored by CulturalDC, an organization that provides a wide range of programs and services that support artists’ ability to live and work in the city.

The mobile art museum’s sole exhibit is by an artist named Jamea Richmond-Edwards, and is entitled “Stay Fly.”  Richmond-Edwards graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Art degree from Jackson State University in 2004 where she studied painting and drawing. She went on to earn a MFA from Howard University in 2012.  In addition to being an artist, she is also currently an Adjunct Professorial Lecturer in the Art Department of American University here in D.C.

“Stay Fly” is an immersive exhibit that explores black Americana, haute couture and fashion, and status symbols.  Comprised of the some of the artist’s colorful, textured paintings, as well as large and small-scale collages, and some of the artist’s personal designer clothes and items that reflect the personal styles which surrounded the artist as a young woman growing up in Detroit in the 1990’s.  The totality of the exhibit is intended to draw attention to the historical and often complex relationship between Black consumers, capitalism, fashion, luxury goods and personal creativity.

Instead of happening upon it by accident like I did, I recommend you make plans to go experience “Stay Fly.”  The exhibit is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 11:00am until 7:00pm, and will be in City Center through April 13th, and admission is free.  And while you’re there, make a day of it and enjoy the rest of City Center’s stores, restaurants, and the uniqueness of the project’s park and open spaces.

 

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

City Center’s Japanese Lanterns are an Homage to the Cherry Blossoms

Types of Cherry Blossom People

While I was spending time at the Tidal Basin again this afternoon I couldn’t help but notice there were almost as many people there today as cherry blossoms. And while some people were there to truly appreciate the beauty of the annual diva-ish spectacle, others in the crowd seemed to be there for other reasons. Some of these people probably saw it as the “in” thing to do, and they didn’t want to feel left out. Some were students on school field trips, and were simply glad to be outside of the confines of their classrooms. Some were members of out-of-town tour groups who seemed to be there so they could check it off their bucket lists.  And many seemed to be there just for a quick photo-op, so that they could then post a photo of the blossoms or, better yet, themselves with the blossoms, on social media.  They seemed like they were in such a hurry.  And instead of being present in the moment, these people mostly looked at the blossoms through camera lenses and cell phone screens, like they probably do with most events in theirs and their children’s lives.

But as I said, some people who were there seemed to truly appreciate the beauty. There were artists with their easels set up just off the beaten path, using paint and their imaginations to put their interpretations on canvasses. There were writers and poets lazily jotting down their impressions in leather-bound journals. There were musicians performing for others, or for just themselves, enjoying the setting in which they performed. There were also older couples on benches holding hands, and younger couples on the grass under the trees, sitting quietly with each other and simply gazing at the blossoms. Still others were leisurely strolling around and taking in the beauty that surrounded them before slowly moving on to take in even more. These are the kind of people who I saw there previously, witnessing the future promise of the emerging green buds, or the gnarly beauty of the trunks of the aged trees before they got all dressed up in their white and pink early-spring attire. They are the people who also enjoy the lesser-known but equally beautiful local sites like the colorful azaleas at the U.S. National Arboretum, the bright tulips near the Netherlands Carillon, the seasonal offerings available at The National Park Service’s Floral Library, and the flowering dogwood trees on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol Building. These people added to the atmosphere rather than just adding to the crowd. They were there to contemplate and be captivated by the beauty, and not just there to attend an event.

While every person had their own story and reason for being there, the people seemed to fall into two general categories. And these two types of people usually go through their entire lives in the same way they spent their time today at The Tidal Basin. One type will have temporary memories that fade into obscurity as quickly as the cherry blossoms and crowds disappear. At best they will end up with just photographs that capture the opportunity they missed to actually experience in real time the true beauty that was right in front of them.  The other type of person takes with them the memories of the moments they spent today, moments that they experienced rather than moments they chased. And it is these moments that added together make for a beautiful and appreciated life well lived.  What type of person are you?  And is it the type you want to be?

Mamie “Peanut” Johnson Mural

Mamie Johnson got her nickname from a trash-talking third baseman for the Kansas City Monarchs named Hank Bayliss.  Although that was not his intention.  Standing at the plate opposite the 5-foot-3, 115-pound right-handed pitcher, Bayliss took a hard strike, after which he stepped out of the batter’s box and said, “Why, that little girl’s no bigger than a peanut. I ain’t afraid of her.”  But it would take more than trash talking when facing off against her.  She proceeded to strike him out.  After that, Johnson decided to turn the jab into her nickname.  And from then on the first female pitcher to play in the Negro Leagues was affectionately known as “Peanut.”

Peanut was born Mamie Lee Belton in Ridgeway, South Carolina on September 27, 1935, to Della Belton Havelow and Gentry Harrison.  In 1944 her family moved, eventually settling down here in D.C.  In 1952, when she was still just 17 years old, she and another young woman went to a tryout in nearby Alexandria, Virginia, for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.  This was the same league portrayed in the film “A League of Their Own.”  But despite Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball (MLB) five years earlier, the women’s league remained segregated, and she was turned away.  Years later she was quoted as saying, “They looked at us like we were crazy.  They wouldn’t even let us try out, and that’s the same discrimination that some of the other black ballplayers had before Mr. Robinson broke the barrier. I never really knew what prejudice was until then.”

She would later recall her rejection by the women’s league, however, was a blessing in disguise.  Because the later that year a scout saw Johnson dominate a lineup of men while playing for a team sponsored by St. Cyprian’s Catholic Church in D.C.  The scout invited her to try out for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues, the same team that launched the career of Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.  She would go on to play three seasons with the Clowns, from 1953 through 1955.

At the plate the right-handed batter had a respectable batting average in the range of .262 to .284.  But with a career 33–8 win-loss record, she was not as good a batter as she was a pitcher.  A right-handed pitcher with a deceptively hard fastball, Peanut also threw a slider, circle changeup, screwball, knuckleball, and curveball, a pitch she received pointers on from Satchel Paige.  Of Paige, she said, “Tell you the truth, I didn’t know of his greatness that much. He was just another ballplayer to me at that particular time.  Later on, I found out exactly who he was.”

Peanut’s brief professional baseball career ended before her 20th birthday, but in that time she amassed a lifetime of interesting stories about a bygone era of playing baseball in a league born of segregation.  After retiring, she earned a nursing degree from North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University and established a 30-year career in the field, working at Sibley Memorial Hospital back here in D.C.  She later operated a Negro Leagues memorabilia shop in nearby Capitol Heights, Maryland.

Peanut eventually received recognition for her career in the Negro Leagues.  In 1999, she was a guest of The White House.  And in 2008, Peanut and other living players from the Negro Leagues ere were drafted by major league franchises prior to the 2008 MLB First year Draft.  Peanut was selected by the Washington Nationals.  Peanut also spoke at an event entitled Baseball Americana 2009, which was organized by The Library of Congress.  And in 2015, a Little League named for her was formed in D.C.

Among these and many other accolades is a mural featuring Peanut, along with Josh Gibson, another prominent Negro League player from D.C. who was also known as the “black Babe Ruth”, and played for the Homestead Grays, who played home games at D.C.’s Griffith Stadium.  The mural was created last year here in D.C.  It is located in the alley off of U Street (MAP) between Ben’s Chili Bowl and the Lincoln Theater in northwest D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood, and was the destination of this lunchtime bike ride.  Today is opening day for MLB and the Washington Nationals.  And normally I would ride by Nationals Park on Opening Day.  But since I couldn’t go to the game this afternoon, I decided to go see this baseball-themed mural during today’s lunchtime bike ride.

The colorful mural was painted by D.C. artist Aniekan Udofia, and is directly across the alley from his mural featuring the likes of Barack and Michelle Obama, Prince and Muhammad Ali on the side of Ben’s Chili Bowl.  The mural was conceived and orchestrated by MLB to kick off the weeklong festivities leading up to last fall’s MLB All-Star Game at Nationals Park.  At the unveiling ceremony, a speaker stated that one of the goals of the mural was to “inspire others to learn about Johnson, Gibson and the Negro Leagues.”  And today I did just that.

 

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