Posts Tagged ‘Library of Congress’

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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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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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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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