Posts Tagged ‘District of Columbia Inventory of Historic Sites’

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The 10th Precinct Station House and Harry Houdini

From the outside, the 19th-century sandstone building at 750 Park Road (MAP), just off Georgia Avenue in northwest D.C.’s Park View neighborhood, appears to stand out for its architectural excellence and aesthetic beauty. Designed by the architectural firm of A.B. Mullett & Company and completed in 1905, there don’t appear to be any other buildings of similar style and quality in that area of the city.  But as interesting as I found the appearance of the building to be when I happened upon it on this lunchtime bike ride, it’s what happened in the building that gives it even more character.

The building was originally built as the 10th Precinct Station House for the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).  And at the time touted by Police Chief Major Richard H. Sylvester as having some of the most modern and secure jail cells in the city.  In fact, Chief Sylvester had so much confidence in his newest jail cells that he invited escape artist Harry Houdini, who happened to be in town performing at Chase’s “Polite Vaudeville” theater for his first ever show in the nation’s capitol, and had been bragging about his escape skills, to come visit the 10th Precinct Station House and try one out.

With a reputation to uphold and welcoming the publicity, Houdini readily accepted the challenge.  And on New Year’s Day of 1906, he turned himself in to be incarcerated, albeit for an indeterminate amount of time, at the 10th Precinct.  Despite attempts to stymie his escape by changing the locks after Houdini had already examined the cell, locking him behind five separate locks, stripping him of his clothing and locking them up in an adjacent cell, and handcuffing him with handcuffs from the Secret Service rather than police handcuffs, Houdini walked out a free man less than twenty minutes later, fully clothed and smirking.

Although Chief Sylvester was surprised and disappointed to see Houdini escape, he could take some consolation in the fact that it was the 62nd jail cell from which Houdini had escaped.  But Chief Sylvester would become more concerned when Houdini went on later that same week to escape from an even-more secure cell in the Fifth Precinct jailhouse, as well as “the Guiteau cell” on Murderers’ Row at the United States Jail, which had formerly housed Charles J. Guiteau, the man who assassinated President James Garfield.  However, Chief Sylvester would learn from Houdini’s escapes, and make his jail cells even more secure in the future.  Houdini was not invited back to test the improved cells though.

Still standing today, the 10th Precinct Station House is listed on the District of Columbia Inventory of Historic Sites and the National Register of Historic Places.  However, after a number of redistrictings and reorganizations over the years, it is now home to the MPD’s Fourth District Substation, serving the city’s Park View, Petworth, Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights neighborhoods.

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

Note:  After the three successful jail breaks in D.C.’s jails in January of 1906 helped solidify his reputation as the “Handcuff King and Prison Breaker”, Houdini frequently scheduled shows in D.C. during his tours.  Over time, and as his fame increased, he drew larger and larger crowds when he performed here.  Ten years after his escape from the cell in the 10th Precinct Station House, he performed an escape while hanging upside down in a straitjacket outside B.F. Keith’s Theater, which attracted a crowd of over 15,000 spectators.  At that time, it was the largest crowd in the national capitol city’s history aside from a Presidential inauguration.  And another ten years after that, Houdini came back again to testify before Congress on the subject of spiritualism and D.C.’s fortune-telling laws.

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Monument to Guglielmo Marconi

On this lunchtime bike ride I rode to northwest D.C.’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood to see a memorial to Guglielmo Marconi. The art deco monument is a public artwork by American sculptor Attilio Piccirilli and architect Joseph Freedlander, and is located at the intersection of 16th and Lamont Streets (MAP).  It stands as a tribute to Italian inventor and electrical engineer Guglielmo Marconi, and was erected in 1941.  The artwork is listed on both the District of Columbia Inventory of Historic Sites and the National Register of Historic Places.

The sculpture features two bronze pieces. In the front is a bust of Marconi which sits on a rectangular granite base. Behind the bust is the second bronze figure resting on another granite base. The second bronze is an allegorist female figure sitting on a globe with her legs stretched out behind her. She points her left arm straight in front of her while her right arm is raised and bent at the elbow. She is naked with a small piece of drapery on her lap.  According to Piccirilli she is “the Wave”, representing “Marconi’s contribution to science.”

Guglielmo Giovanni Maria Marconi was born in Bologna, Italy, on April 25, 1874, the second son of Giuseppe Marconi, an Italian country gentleman, and Annie Jameson, daughter of Andrew Jameson of Daphne Castle in the County Wexford, Ireland. He was educated privately at Bologna, Florence and Leghorn.

At the age of 21, he began conducting laboratory experiments at his father’s country estate at Pontecchio, where he succeeded in sending wireless signals over a distance of one and a half miles. When his first transmissions in 1895 did not interest Italian authorities, he went to London.  There he formed the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company in 1896.  He demonstrated his system successfully in London, on Salisbury Plain and across the Bristol Channel.  And later that year he was granted the world’s first patent for a system of wireless telegraphy.  In July of the following year he formed The Wireless Telegraph & Signal Company Limited, which he later re-named Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company Limited.  He went on to make millions off his inventions and businesses.

Marconi went on to a number of different endeavors later in life.  He became an active Italian Fascist and an apologist for their ideology. He enlisted in the Italian Army as a Lieutenant, and was later promoted to Captain, and eventually to Commander in the Navy.  For his military service during World War I he received the Italian Military Medal.  He was even appointed to represent Italy at the Paris Peace Conference after World War I.  Later, Marconi invented a wave gun device, which he demonstrated for Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. The gun could disable electrical systems, which he demonstrated by disabling a number of automobiles. Marconi was also one of ninety-eight scientists who were reported to have gone to South America, where they built a city in an extinct volcanic crater in the southern jungles of Venezuela.  In their secret city, financed by the great wealth they had accumulated during their lives, they continued Marconi’s work on solar energy, cosmic energy, and anti-gravity.

Marconi and his inventions also had a role in helping to save some of the passengers of the RMS Titanic when it hit an iceberg and sank on the night of June 15, 1912.  Jack Phillips and Harold Bride, the two radio operators aboard the Titanic, were not employed by the White Star Line, but rather by the Marconi International Marine Communication Company.  After the sinking of the ocean liner, radio contact was made with the RMS Carpathia, which rescued and took aboard the passengers who survived.  Then when the Carpathia arrived in New York, Marconi went aboard to talk with Bride, the surviving radio operator.  Marconi later gave evidence to the Court of Inquiry into the loss of Titanic regarding the marine telegraphy’s functions and the procedures for emergencies at sea. Britain’s postmaster-general summed up, referring to the Titanic disaster, “Those who have been saved, have been saved through one man, Mr. Marconi … and his marvelous invention.” Ironically, Marconi had been offered free passage on Titanic maiden voyage, but was not aboard because he had taken a different ship, the Lusitania.

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