Posts Tagged ‘George Washington University’

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The American Meridian Memorial

As I was riding around the campus of George Washington University on this lunchtime bike ride, I happened upon a marker that I hadn’t seen before. As I would come to find out, it is The American Meridian Memorial.  Located on a small bluff near the corner of 24th and H Streets (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Foggy Bottom Neighborhood, it was once considered by some to be the center of the world, establishing a geographical line that separated the Eastern and Western hemispheres. 

Prior to 1850, different countries measured longitude from different meridians. Because there was no agreement for a prime meridian, the way there is with latitude and the Equator, prime meridians and associated maps were identified in Greenwich, Paris, Rome, and various other European centers. American navigators tended to use either the French meridian at Paris or the British meridian at Greenwich.

Beginning in 1850, the United States established and began to measure distance from the American Meridian. The Federal government officially used this line, which ran along 24th Street, to measure distances on land, survey the West, coordinate the nation’s clocks, and record the start of new days.

However, few navigators at that time adopted the American Meridian, as they owned charts that gave distances relative to Paris or London, rather than 24th Street in D.C.  In fact, the United States continued to utilize the Greenwich Meridian for longitude at sea. But land surveyors welcomed the ability to measure from the new American Meridian rather that a line that lay across a broad ocean.  So as teams of American surveyors and mapmakers ventured steadily westward, those square boundaries of the Western states were all measured in appealing round numbers from the American Meridian.

Oregon would be the first to use the American Meridian in 1859 when it became a state. The southeastern border of the new state would be exactly 42 degrees West of the American Meridian. Colorado Territory in 1861 would be next to use the Meridian, establishing it’s eastern (27°W, Am) and western (34°W, Am) borders with the newly established meridian. The eastern border of Wyoming is exactly 27 degrees west of 24th Street, Arizona is 32 degrees west, and the Utah-Nevada border is 36 degrees west

The United States, via an act of Congress, officially abandoned the American Meridian in 1912, when it accepted the meridian at Greenwich as the international standard. Thus, the American Meridian was relegated to history. Today, the meridian marker is one of three reminders in D.C. of the evolution of cartography in this country. Meridian Hill Park was named for a stone obelisk that was erected there along the original prime meridian in 1804.  The stone marker there is long gone, but the park named after it remains.  And the third remnant of the pre-Greenwich Meridian age is The Zero Milestone, which is located on The Ellipse directly south of the White House.  With the advancement of technology, one day the Greenwich Meridian may be a thing of the past as well.

AmericanMeridian02[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

FBI Headquarters

FBI Headquarters

Tomorrow marks the 43rd anniversary of the death of J. Edgar Hoover.  After nearly five decades as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), his death left the powerful government agency without the administrator who had been largely responsible for its existence and shape. It was on May 2, 1972, as the Watergate affair was about to explode onto the national stage, that Hoover died of heart disease at the age of 77.  After laying in repose in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Building, he was buried in a full state funeral on my 10th birthday.  And even though I was very young at the time, I remember this happening.

It was in recognition of this event that, as part of this bike ride, I rode from FBI Headquarters, which was named after him, back to Director Hoover’s final resting place in Historic Congressional Cemetery, just a mere three miles away. Hoover was born on New Year’s Day in 1895 in D.C., where he lived his entire life. In light of the recent controversy over President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, it is interesting to note that a birth certificate was not filed at the time Hoover was born, despite the fact that it was required.  His two siblings had birth certificates, but Hoover’s was not filed until 1938, when he was 43 years old.

Hoover then grew up near Eastern Market in D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood (where I stopped at one of my favorite places for lunch on my way back to my office today). Educated as a lawyer and a librarian at George Washington University in D.C., Hoover joined the Department of Justice in 1917 and within two years had become special assistant to the Attorney General.  Appointed in  1924 as the Director of The Bureau of Investigation – the predecessor to the FBI – he was instrumental in founding the FBI in 1935.  He then ran the FBI for an additional 37 years.

Because Hoover’s actions came to be seen by many in Congress as an abuse of power, FBI directors are now limited to one ten-year term, subject to extension by the U.S. Senate. Late in life, and especially after his death, Hoover became a controversial figure as evidence of his secretive actions became known.  His critics have accused him of exceeding the jurisdiction of the FBI.  Additionally, rumors have circulated that Hoover was homosexual, which had a distinctly different connotation during his lifetime.  Despite the criticisms and rumors, however, Hoover is credited with building the FBI into a large and efficient crime-fighting agency, and with instituting a number of modernizations to police technology, such as a centralized fingerprint file and forensic laboratories.

The J. Edgar Hoover FBI Headquarters building is located at 935 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), occupying a full city block of prestigious real estate approximately halfway between the White House and the U.S. Capitol Building in D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood. Unfortunately it has not been accessible to the public since 2001 when the Bureau immediately suspended public tours in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks. Among its many amenities the brutalist 2,800,876 square-foot structure contains, or has in the past contained: an auditorium and theater; three below-ground floors, which include a gymnasium and a two-story basketball court; an automobile repair shop, an eighth-floor cafeteria with outdoor rooftop patio dining; an indoor firing range;  a pneumatic tube system and a conveyor belt system for handling mail and files; a film library as well as developing laboratories for both still photography and motion pictures; a cryptographic vault; an amphitheater; jail holding cells; classrooms; 80,000 square feet of laboratory space; a printing plant; a medical clinic; a morgue, and; a gravel-filled dry moat which parallels the sides and back of the building.

Unfortunately, the public may never again get the chance to tour the building inasmuch as plans are being made to abandon it and move to a new headquarters building outside of the city.  Structural and safety issues with the building starting becoming apparent in approximately 2001 when it is rumored that a large chunk of cement broke off and fell within the interior of the building. It is said to have landed on and damaged an employee’s desk during the night, and was found the next morning when the employee arrived at work.  Chunks of falling concrete remain a danger, which is why many parts of the building are wrapped with netting, and scaffolding covers some sidewalk walkways. Later that year an engineering consultant found that the building was deteriorating due to deferred maintenance, and that many of the building’s systems such as heating and air conditioning, its elevators, etc. were nearing the end of their life-cycle. The consultant rated the building as in “poor condition” and said it was not at an “industry-acceptable level.” Four years later, another consultant reported that due to the building’s inefficient interior layout, it could no longer accommodate the FBI’s workforce, which by that time was scattered in 16 additional leased properties throughout the D.C. metropolitan area. This problem was compounded by the need for recommended security upgrades, building systems replacements, and other necessary renovations. At that time, the General Services Administration estimated that it would take three years to develop a replacement headquarters and identify a site, and another three years for design, construction, and to move-in. The FBI began studying the costs and logistics of moving its headquarters later that year. It has been a decade since the estimated six-year process was initiated, and current estimates are that it will take another ten years before the FBI will be able to move into a new headquarters building.

But then again, despite all the studies and money already spent, the move may not happen after all. In January of this year the U.S. Congress passed the “Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015.” In a brief and mostly overlooked portion in Section 517 of the Act, wording was slipped in which specifically states, “Any consolidation of the headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation must result in a full consolidation.” In order to comply with this requirement of the new law, the FBI will have to consolidate all of the employees and functions that are currently located in the headquarters building as well as the other 16 leased properties into any new building. The problem is, plans for the new building are that it will be approximately 2.1 million square feet. So a new building is being pursued because the current building is inadequate for the size of the FBI workforce. But the proposed new building will be 700,000 square feet smaller than the current building.   I guess we will just have to wait and see whether or not the FBI will be able to move its headquarters.

On the bright side, though, if the Bureau is not relocated to a new headquarters building it will give them the chance to finally finish construction of the one they’re in.  The construction of FBI Headquarters was nearing completion at the time Director Hoover passed away. And in what some say was intended as a slight toward the former Director after his death, funding was never appropriated to finish construction on the exterior of the building that was to bear his name. As a result, the façade of the J. Edgar Hoover Building is riddled with hundreds of holes where sheets of polished granite or marble cladding were to have been attached, and the crude concrete exterior of the building has remained in an unfinished state ever since.

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

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Statue of Aleksandr Pushkin

While on a bike ride on the campus of George Washington University I came across a statue of the Russian poet and author, Aleksandr Pushkin. This made me wonder whether or not there are any statues of American literary figures in Russia. Later, when I was trying to find out information about the statue from my ride, I got the answer to my question. The statue of Aleksandr Pushkin was a gift from the government of Moscow to the city of D.C. as part of a cultural exchange between the two cities. In return, a statue of American poet Walt Whitman was erected in Moscow.

Located at the corner of 22nd Street and H Street (MAP), in northwest D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood, ground was broken for the statue on June 6, 1999, the 200th anniversary of Pushkin’s birth. The statue was completed over the forthcoming year, and dedicated on September 20, 2000. It depicts the author in front of a column on which stands the winged horse Pegasus, symbolically representing poetry and creative inspiration. The Pushkin statue is thought to be the first monument in the United States which commemorates a Russian literary figure.

Aleksander Sergeyevich Pushkin was born into Russian nobility on June 6, 1799, in Moscow. He published his first poem at the age of fifteen. And by the time he finished school as part of the first graduating class of the prestigious Imperial Lyceum near Saint Petersburg, his talent was already widely recognized within Russian literary circles. After completing school, Pushkin became committed to social reform and emerged as a spokesman for literary radicals. This angered the government, and led to his transfer from the capital.

After five years in exile, he was granted permission to personally petition Tsar Nicholas I for his release, which was granted. However, some of his writings were subsequently found in the possession of radicals after the Decembrist Uprising in Saint Petersburg, and Pushkin quickly found himself under the strict control of government censors, and was again unable to travel or publish at will.  But it was during this time that Pushkin wrote some of his now most famous works.

Pushkin eventually was able to regain favor with the Tsarist government. However, many including Pushkin speculated that it was because of his marriage to the young Nataliya Nikolaevna Goncharova, who he had met when he was almost 30 and she was only 16 years old.  Natalya had many admirers, among them the Tsar himself.  Natalya accepted Pushkin’s marriage proposal only after she received assurances that the government had no intentions to persecute the poet.  And later, when the Tsar gave Pushkin a court title, the poet became enraged, feeling that the Tsar intended to humiliate him by giving him the lowest court title solely so that his wife could properly attend court balls and events.

By 1837, Pushkin was faced with scandalous rumors that his wife had embarked on a love affair.  In response, the poet challenged Natalya’s alleged lover, her brother in-law Georges-Charles de Heeckeren d’Anthès, to a duel. Notoriously touchy about his honor, Pushkin fought as many as twenty-nine duels during his lifetime. The one with d’Anthès would be his last.  Although the other man was injured, Pushkin was shot through the spleen and died two days later, on February 10, 1837.

Although he was only 37 years old at the time of his death, Pushkin was somewhat prolific in his writing, particularly in comparison to more recent writers. He wrote narrative poems, verse novels, dramas, prose, and fairy tales in verse. And his writing is so complex that works which originally comprised only about a hundred pages would require two full volumes of material to translate and fully render its meaning in English.  Because of this difficulty in translation, Pushkin’s verse remains largely unknown to English readers. However, in his native Russia he is considered by many to be their greatest poet and the founder of modern Russian literature.

I doubt I will ever ride to Moscow State University in Russia to see the statue of Walt Whitman, which was unveiled by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in October of 1999. Perhaps I will be able to read more about it someday from a Russian blogger.  But there are places here in D.C. associated with Walt Whitman, who was a resident of the city for ten years.  I plan to ride to some of those places in the future.

The River Horse

The River Horse

On this ride I set out on a hunt for a mysterious and illusive creature known as a river horse. I found it in northwest D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood, at 21st Street and H Street (MAP), in front of the Lisner Auditorium on the campus of George Washington University

“The River Horse” is a bronze sculpture of a hippopotamus that was a gift from University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg to the George Washington University’s incoming class of 2000.  It was placed at the center of the campus in 1996, and has become a popular, though unofficial, campus mascot for all students.  It is so popular, in fact, that over the years its nose has become slightly worn due to passersby rubbing it for good luck.

Information about the legend surrounding the river horse is contained on a plaque at the base of the statue, which reads, “Legend has it that the Potomac was once home to these wondrous beasts. George and Martha Washington are even said to have watched them cavort in the river shallows from the porch of their beloved Mount Vernon on summer evenings. Credited with enhancing the fertility of the plantation, the Washingtons believed the hippopotamus brought them good luck and children on the estate often attempted to lure the creatures close enough to the shore to touch a nose for good luck. So, too, may generations of students of the George Washington University. Art for wisdom, Science for joy, Politics for beauty, And a Hippo for hope. The George Washington University Class of 2000 – August 28, 1996”

After rubbing its nose, I continued on my way feeling a little luckier for the rest of the ride.

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J. Edgar Hoover’s Gravesite

Arguably one of the most powerful men in the history of D.C, he was never elected to public office.  He was born in D.C., but no birth certificate or public record was ever filed, despite the fact that it was legally required at the time.  He went through the D.C. public school system, and attended college in D.C. as well at The George Washington University, where he obtained both a Bachelor of Laws degree and a Master of Laws degree.  He lived his entire life in the nation’s capitol, died here, and is now buried at Historic Congressional Cemetery in D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood (MAP).  That man was J. Edgar Hoover.

Hoover was born on New Year’s Day in 1895, and died on May 2, 1972.  Appointed in 1924 as the Director of the Bureau of Investigation, the predecessor to the FBI, he was instrumental in founding the FBI in 1935, where he became its first Director.  He remained the Bureau’s Director for 37 years, until his death in 1972 at age 77.

Hoover’s professional legacy at the FBI is mixed.  He was noted as being capricious in his leadership.  He singled out FBI Agents who he thought “looked stupid like truck drivers,” or that he considered “pinheads.”  He frequently fired FBI Agents, and also relocated Agents who had displeased him to career-ending assignments and locations.   And it is because Hoover’s actions came to be seen as an abuse of power, FBI directors are now limited to one ten-year term.  However, Hoover is also credited with building the FBI into a premier crime-fighting agency, and with instituting a number of modernizations to law enforcement technology, such as a centralized fingerprint file and forensic laboratories.

Hoover’s private life is also subject to interpretation and speculation, and opinions of the man are varied as well.  Beginning decades before his death rumors began circulating that the lifelong bachelor was a homosexual.  Some historians speculate that Clyde Tolson, Hoover’s second in command at the FBI, and who also never married, may have been his lover.  Other scholars dismiss rumors about Hoover’s sexuality, and his relationship with Tolson in particular, as unlikely.  Still other scholars have reported the rumors without expressing an opinion.

Clyde Tolson is best known as the protégé and companion of Hoover, who described Tolson as his alter ego.  The men worked closely together during the day and, both single, frequently took meals, went to night clubs, and vacationed together.  Hoover bequeathed his estate to Tolson, who moved into Hoover’s house upon the FBI Director’s death, and also accepted the American flag that draped Hoover’s casket.  Tolson’s gravesite is just a few yards away from J. Edgar Hoover’s grave.

Despite the varying interpretations of Hoover and the disagreements that will never be settled, most would agree that during his era he was a very powerful man.  Perhaps exemplifying this was the opinion of President Harry S. Truman, who once said that “J. Edgar Hoover would give his right eye to take over, and all congressmen and senators are afraid of him.”

Even after his death, Hoover’s presence loomed large in D.C.  By regulation and custom, only Presidents, military commanders, and members of Congress are granted the honor of lying in state in the U.S. Capitol Building‘s rotunda.  Of the 31 people, including 11 Presidents, who have been granted this honor, there has been only one exception.  That exception was J. Edgar Hoover.

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