Posts Tagged ‘Mount Pleasant’

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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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Pierce Mill

I had no particular destination in mind when I left on this lunchtime bike ride.  Initially, I just rode north.  Then as I was riding and would see a direction that didn’t look familiar, I would follow it.  As I made my way up through the DuPont Circle, Kalorama, Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant neighborhoods, I just continued riding.  Eventually I found myself on a long downhill stretch of Park Road, and as I crossed over Beach Road I happened upon Peirce Mill.  Situated in Rock Creek Park, Peirce Mill is located at 2539 Tilden Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.

Peirce Mill was built on 1839 by a Quaker farmer from Pennsylvania named Issac Peirce.  Using the moving water or Rock Creek as a power source, the mill ground corn, wheat, and rye.  However, Peirce was not a miller and did not operate the mill himself.  Instead, he hired other millers to do so.  It remained in operation for more than six decades.  The last commercial load ground was in 1897, when the main shaft broke, while a millwright named Alcibiades P. White was grinding a load of rye.

The Federal government bought the mill as part of Rock Creek Park and it was restored as a Public Works Administration project, completed in March 1936, at a cost of $26,614.  Operation began again in October of 1936 under the supervision of miller Robert A. Little.  The mill was used from December 1, 1936 until 1958 to provide flour for government cafeterias.  Eventually, however, due to a lack of trained millwrights and lack of water in the millrace, it again discontinued operating as a mill, and was used from that time forward as an historical site.

There was a brief period, between 1993 and 1997, that the mill was closed once again.  A restoration effort was begun by the Friends of Peirce Mill, and the mill was restored with the support of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  The mill officially reopened in October of 2011.

Peirce Mill is currently open from April 1st through October 31st from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m, Wednesday through Sunday.  During the month of November it is open on only Saturdays and Sundays, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  And from December through the end of March it is open from noon to 4:00pm on Saturdays and Sundays. But the best time to plan a visit is on the 2nd or 4th Saturday of each month between April and October, when the National Park Service typically runs mill operation demonstrations.

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

Note:  I recently ran across the following photo in the Library of Congress, taken sometime between the 1880s and 1910s.  It depicts men riding bikes near Peirce Mill, showing that people have been riding bikes to and near the mill for over a hundred years.

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

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Statue of Bishop Francis Asbury

On this ride I visited the Bishop Francis Asbury Memorial, dedicated to one of the founders and the first American Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The memorial consists of a bronze equestrian statue sculpted by American artist Augustus Lukeman. Mounted on a granite base, the sculpture features Francis Asbury seated upon his horse wearing a cape and hat, and holding a Bible in his right hand. The horse is depicted bending its head down to lick its left leg. The memorial is located at 16th Street and Mt. Pleasant Street, (MAP) in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of northwest D.C.

The man who came to be known as the “Father of Methodism in the United States” was originally from England. He was sent to America as an assistant to John Wesley, a Christian theologian who is one of those credited with the foundation of the evangelical movement known as Methodism. When Asbury arrived in “the colonies” in 1771, Methodists numbered perhaps a few thousand, but most likely fewer than that. By the time of Asbury’s death in 1810, the Methodist Episcopal Church was the largest denomination in America, with over 200,000 members. Through a series of divisions and mergers, the Methodist Episcopal Church became the major component of the present day United Methodist Church, which currently has a worldwide membership of approximately 12 million.

Asbury was a self-educated man, who rose everyday at 4 a.m. for prayer, devotion, and to teach himself biblical languages. During his 45-year ministry in America, he traveled an estimated 300,000 miles by horseback or horse drawn carriage, and became famous during his lifetime for being seen on American trails, riding and reading at the same time. During his ministry he delivered an estimated 16,500 sermons, an average of more than one each day during his four and a half decades long ministry. In fact, he travelled so widely and addressed so many people that he was so well-known that letters addressed to “Bishop Asbury, United States of America” were delivered to him.

Unfortunately, like many statues and memorials in D.C., few people notice the statue these days. And fewer still know who Asbury was, despite the level of renown he was afforded during his lifetime. Even more than a hundred years after his death, when the Memorial was dedicated on October 15, 1924, by President Calvin Coolidge, the dedication and speech by President Coolidge made front page news in newspapers. President Coolidge called Asbury not only a “prophet of the wilderness,” but a man who is “entitled to rank as one of the builders of our nation.” So next time you’re passing by a statue or memorial and you don’t recognize the name, consider looking into the story behind it.

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