Posts Tagged ‘Library of Congress’

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]

Plant-Based D.C. Landmarks

Sadly, despite having worked in downtown D.C. for the past 30 years, I had never visited the United States Botanic Garden during the Christmas holiday season before this year.  I’ve been there many times but not during the holidays. But a friend who only lived here for a year before moving out of the area knew about the Botanic Garden’s annual holiday display, entitled Season’s Greenings, and the sights, smells, and sounds that accompany it.  When she asked me about this year’s display, it prompted me to go check it out.  And I’m so glad I did.

This year’s display is a multifaceted one that stretches throughout the Botanic Garden.  First, it includes the return of a series of D.C. landmarks made out of plant materials.  The holiday display also includes thousands of blooms throughout the Conservatory, from exotic orchids to a showcase of heirloom and newly developed poinsettia varieties in the seasonal Poinsettia Room.  Lastly, this year’s holiday decorations include a showcase of model trains chugging around, below, through, and above plant-based recreations of iconic sights and roadside attractions from across the United States.

I will be covering the Poinsettia display, and the model train and roadside attractions showcase in the near future.  Today’s blog post focuses on the collection of D.C. landmarks, all made from a myriad of plant and other natural materials, which is displayed in the Garden Court.  There are a dozen local landmarks and memorials on display this year.  The White House swing set, which had been included in previous years, was not present this year because the actual swing set is no longer at the White House.  In it’s place is the Albert Einstein Memorial.  Also new this year is the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened a little over a year ago.  All of the landmarks would be incredible in and of themselves.  But knowing that they are made of plants adds to the experience.

For added holiday cheer at the Botanic Garden, there are concerts on Tuesday and Thursday evenings in December, when hours are extended until 8pm.  If you can, I highly recommend going on one of these days for both the music and to see the exhibit and plant collections illuminated by colorful lights.  One of my first thoughts after seeing Seasons Greenings was wishing that I had known about it and gone in previous years.  So do yourself a favor and go so you don’t have the same thought years from now.


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

1 – U.S. Capitol Building
2 – The Thomas Jefferson Memorial
3 – Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building
4 – Lincoln Memorial
5 – National Museum of African American History and Culture
6 – National Museum of the American Indian
7 – Smithsonian Institution, The Castle
8 – U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory
9 – U.S. Supreme Court
10 – Washington Monument
11 – White House
12 – Albert Einstein Memorial

NOTE:  My blog post on “Seasons Greetings: Railroads and Roadside Attractions” will appear next Monday.


The Original Washington Monument

The original Washington monument is not the large obelisk which towers over the National Mall.  That monument was dedicated in 1885. Neither is it the even earlier monument depicting George Washington on horseback. That statue was dedicated in 1860. Both the iconic obelisk and the equestrian statue were created after our nation’s original monument to its first President. The original Washington Monument was commissioned for the centennial of President George Washington’s birth, and was dedicated in 1841, almost two decades earlier than either of those monuments.

In 1832 Congress commissioned American sculptor Horatio Greenough to create a monument to George Washington for the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Building. Known as “Enthroned Washington,” the statue is modeled after Phidias’ Statue of Olympian Zeus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  It depicts a seated and sandal-wearing figure draped in a toga and naked from the waist up.  With his right upraised index finger he is pointing toward heaven.  And with his left hand he is cradling a sheathed sword, hilt forward, symbolizing the turning over of power to the people of the newly-formed country at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War.

However, within the first few weeks after it was installed in the Capitol rotunda, complaints from the public began to flood in.  The complaints centered on President Washington’s semi-nude, nipple-baring state, which many believed to be inappropriate and undignified, especially for an American president.  As a result, the statue quickly became the “butt” of many jokes.  Following their constituent’s lead, many Congressmen also began to voice objections to the statue.  In fact, enough legislators found it to be so risqué and controversial that Congress voted the following year to move it out of the U.S. Capitol Building.  It was initially moved outside, to the east lawn of the Capitol grounds.  The statue eventually became part of the Smithsonian Institution’s collection and, in 1908, was moved to the “Smithsonian Castle.”  It remained there until 1962 when it crossed the National Mall to the new Museum of History and Technology, which is now the National Museum of American History (MAP).  It was there that I was able to visit it during this lunchtime bike ride.  And even though I had to leave the bike outside, it was worth going inside to view it.

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

Left – African American school children facing the Horatio Greenough statue of George Washington at the U.S. Capitol.  (Library of Congress Control Number 91482755.  Contributor: Frances Benjamin Johnston. Circa 1899.)
Right – Crowd at the inauguration of Rutherford B. Hayes, on the east front grounds of the U.S. Capitol, surrounding Horatio Greenough’s statue of George Washington (Library of Congress Control Number 91482755.  Contributor: Brady’s National Photographic Portrait Galleries. Circa 1877.)

Note:  Historic photos obtained from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The Gutenberg Bible

The Gutenberg Bible

On this lunchtime bike ride I did not go to see a monument or a statue, or any of the other usual types of destinations to which I normally ride. The destination of this daily ride was a book.

This particular book has many stories about unusual and interesting things, including: a man who had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines; a giant who had a bed that was 13 ½ feet long by 6 feet wide; a man who lived to be 969 years old; an army with seven hundred left-handed men; a man who had twelve fingers and twelve toes, and; a woman who boiled and ate her son. It even mentions unicorns.  But the book is much more than a collection of interesting stories.

The book is comprised of 1,189 chapters and was written by about 40 men on three different continents over a period of approximately 1600 years, dating from 1500 BC to about 100 years AD. It was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine Greek, and was not translated into English for more than thirteen centuries. It has now been translated into 2,018 languages, with countless more partial translations, and audio translations for unwritten languages and dialects, making it the most translated book in the world. But it is more than just an ancient book translated into a lot of different languages.

The book is The Bible, and it was the first book ever printed. The Bible was originally printed in 1454 by Johannes Gutenberg, who invented the “type mold” for the printing press, a system of printing and typography that uses movable components to reproduce the elements of a document.  And it was this Bible, an original, 560-plus year old Gutenberg Bible, that I went to see on this bike ride. It can be found in the Thomas Jefferson Building of The Library of Congress, which is located at 101 Independence Avenue (MAP), between First and Second Streets in southeast D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.

Forty-eight copies, or substantial portions of copies of The Gutenberg Bible, survive. The Library of Congress copy is printed entirely on vellum, a fine parchment made from animal skin, and is one of only three perfect vellum copies known to exist. The others are at the Bibliothèque Nationale and the British Library. For nearly five centuries this Bible was in the possession of the Benedictine Order in their monasteries of St. Blasius and St. Paul in Austria. Along with other fifteenth-century books, it was purchased from Dr. Otto Vollbehr by an act of Congress in 1930.

Gutenberg Bibles are considered to be among the most valuable books in the world. The last sale of a complete Gutenberg Bible took place in 1978. It fetched $2.2 million. This copy is now in Stuttgart. The price of a complete copy today is estimated to be between $25 to $35 million.  The one I saw on this ride was not for sale, however, so I was unable to buy it.  The one I saw on this ride was not for sale, however, so I was unable to buy it.

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The Library of Congress' Thomas Jefferson Building

The Library of Congress’ Thomas Jefferson Building

In 1800 President John Adams approved legislation to appropriate $5,000 to purchase “such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress,” thus establishing what would eventually become the largest library in the world – The Library of Congress.

The first books, ordered from London, arrived in 1801 and were stored in the U.S. Capitol Building, the library’s first home. The first library catalog, dated April 1802, listed 964 volumes and nine maps. Twelve years later, the British army invaded the city of Washington and burned the Capitol, including the then 3,000-volume Library of Congress. Former President Thomas Jefferson, who advocated the expansion of the library during his two terms in office, responded to the loss by selling his personal library, the largest and finest in the country at that time, to Congress to “recommence” the library. The purchase of Jefferson’s 6,487 volumes was approved in the next year, and a professional librarian was hired to replace the House clerks in the administration of the library.

In 1851, a second major fire at the library destroyed about two-thirds of its 55,000 volumes, including two-thirds of the Thomas Jefferson library. Congress responded quickly and generously to the disaster, and within a few years a majority of the lost books were replaced. After the Civil War, the collection was greatly expanded, and by the 20th century the Library of Congress had become the de facto national library of the United States and the largest library in the world.

Currently the Library’s collections include more than 158 million items on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves. The collections include more than 36 million books and other print materials, 3.5 million recordings, 13.7 million photographs, 5.5 million maps, 6.7 million pieces of sheet music and 69 million manuscripts.  And the Library continues to grow.  It receives some 15,000 items each working day and adds approximately 12,000 items to the collections daily.  And approximately half of the Library’s book and serial collections are in languages other than English. The collections contain materials in some 470 languages.

The collections are housed in three enormous buildings in D.C. – the main building, the Thomas Jefferson Building, as well as the John Adams Building and the James Madison Memorial Building. There is also a fourth building in Culpeper, Virginia. The fourth building, the Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation (MAP), is the Library of Congress’s newest building, opened in 2007. It was constructed out of a former Federal Reserve storage center and Cold War bunker.  Although it’s only 71 miles away, I didn’t ride my bike to Culpeper to see the fourth building.

The Thomas Jefferson Building is located between Independence Avenue and East Capitol Street on First Street in Southeast D.C. (MAP). It first opened in 1897 as the main building of the Library and is the oldest of the three buildings.  Known originally as the Library of Congress Building or Main Building, it took its present name on June 13, 1980. The Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Auditorium, which opened in 1933, has been home to more than 2,000 concerts, primarily of classical chamber music, but occasionally also of jazz, folk music, and special presentations. Some performances make use of the Library’s extensive collection of musical instruments and manuscripts. Most of the performances are free and open to the public.

The James Madison Memorial Building (see photo below, second row, left) is located between First and Second Streets SE on Independence Avenue in D.C.  (MAP).  The Madison Building is home to the Mary Pickford Theater, the “motion picture and television reading room” of the Library of Congress. The theater hosts regular free screenings of classic and contemporary movies and television shows. The Madison building also houses the Law Library of Congress and the United States Copyright Office. The Madison building is the third largest public building in the D.C. metropolitan area, behind the Pentagon and the building that houses my office.

The John Adams Building (see photo below, second row, right) is located between Independence Avenue and East Capitol Street on 2nd Street in Southeast D.C. (MAP), the block adjacent to the Jefferson Building. The building was originally built simply as an annex to the Jefferson Building. It opened its doors to the public on January 3, 1939. The Adams Building contains 180 miles of shelving (compared to 104 miles in the Jefferson Building) and can hold ten million volumes. There are 12 tiers of stacks, extending from the cellar to the fourth floor. Each tier provides about 13 acres of shelf space.

The Library’s primary mission is researching inquiries made by members of Congress through the Congressional Research Service. Although it is open to the public, only Library employees, Members of Congress, Supreme Court justices and other high-ranking government officials may check out books.

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

Library Court

Library Court

When riding around the Capitol Hill neighborhood east of the U.S. Capitol Building, you can find some of D.C.’s most famous (or notorious) alleys.  Alleys were built into Pierre L’Enfant’s original design plan for the Capitol city as a way to provide tradesmen with backdoor access to substantial homes and mansions.  The alleys at that time also frequently contained stables and carriage houses.

Later, after the end of the Civil War, the population of D.C. increased considerably as both soldiers and freed slaves flocked to the city.  Within a decade after the War, the population of D.C. grew from 60,000 to over 110,000.  During this time, many alleys became festering slums where freed slaves and others squatted and worked under substandard conditions.  For generations, these D.C. alley dwellers lived off the grid and behind the scenes.  This led Congress to pass the Alley Dwelling Elimination Act of 1934.  Subsequently, many of the enclaves of converted stables and alley homes were demolished.

Only a few pockets of these homes survived, but many of the remaining ones have now been gentrified and turned into smart mews homes for the affluent. These homes are not located on any street, and can only be reached through an alley. One of the best examples is what is now known as “Library Court,” which can be found by entering the alley across from the Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church at 201 Independence Avenue in Southeast D.C. (MAP).  Another example on Capitol Hill is Rumsey Court (below, left), reachable by an alley in the 100 block of C Street (MAP) in southeast D.C.  A third alley enclave on Capitol Hill is known as Miller’s Court (below, right), and is located in the alley across from the Frederick Douglass house at 320 A Street in northeast D.C.  (MAP), just behind the Library of Congress’ Adams Building.

There are a few other groupings of mews houses in D.C., but the number is extremely limited.  For those that do exist, given the fact that they are located within the center of a city block and only accessible through alleys, it was only recently that these communities started to be listed on any public maps.  And getting there using a GPS can be almost impossible.  But they remain very popular and sought after, usually selling within the first few days when one comes up for sale.

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


The Gettysburg Address at the Library of Congress

The Gettysburg Address is a speech that was given by President Abraham Lincoln, and one of the best-known speeches in American history.  It was delivered by President Lincoln in 1863, at the dedication ceremony of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; just four and a half months after the Union armies defeated those of the Confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg.  On the 150th anniversary of the speech, a rare copy of The Gettysburg Address, which is written in the former President’s own handwriting and is thought to have been with him when he delivered the famous civil war speech, was on display in The Library of Congress (MAP).  So that’s where I went on one of my bike rides.

President Lincoln’s speech, which he made four months after the bloody Civil War battle at Gettysburg that left tens of thousands of men wounded, dead or missing, is considered a seminal moment in the history of the United States.  However, it was not immediately recognized as a towering literary achievement.  And President Lincoln was not even the keynote speaker at that day’s ceremony.  The dignitary who spoke before Lincoln, Edward Everett, delivered what was scheduled as the main speech of the day.  The former Massachusetts governor and onetime Secretary of State was the best-known orator of the time, and took two hours navigating through his 13,607-word speech.  President Lincoln’s speech, a mere 271 words if you go by the version that’s attributed to Lincoln, took just over two minutes.

The speech was well-received by the public attending the event. They clapped politely, a few cheered.  But not everyone at the time agreed.  The Chicago Times called it “silly, dishwatery utterances.”  Journalist Gabor Boritt, who was present, said of other journalists that “they could not find much good to say about it.”  Lincoln himself said, “It is a flat failure, and the people are disappointed.”  However, on the day following the ceremony, Everett wrote to Lincoln, and said, “I wish that I could flatter myself that I had come as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.”  History would eventually side with Everett’s opinion.

There are five known manuscripts of President Lincoln’s now-famous speech, and the most widely quoted one is the oldest.  The earliest versions were given to his two secretaries, John George Nicholay and John Hay.  Three were written after the address was delivered, and then donated to charities.  The Library of Congress owns both the Nicholay and Hay copies.  The five copies of the speech contain differences in text and emphasis.  Noticeably, the Nicolay version does not contain the phrase “under God”, which was later added to other copies Lincoln made of the speech – and appeared in contemporaneous newspaper reports.  The one I was fortunate enough to see at the Library of Congress is the Nicolay version, which is also referred to as the “first draft” because some historians contend that it was the copy that Lincoln read out at Gettysburg.

Interestingly, although one of the world’s best-remembered speeches, it includes the line, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here.”  So in the end, at least that portion of the famous speech was yet another example of a statement by a President that turned out to be wrong.

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