Posts Tagged ‘National Museum of the American Indian’

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.

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Mary Ann Hall and Her Brothel

Mary Ann Hall and Her Brothel

On this bike ride I rode to one of D.C.’s brothels, which are also sometimes known as a bordellos, dens of iniquity, houses of ill repute, cathouses, houses of ill fame, bawdy houses, call houses, houses of assignation, and houses with red doors.  However, it was closed.  Actually, it closed well over a hundred years ago, but I stopped by the location where it once stood.

Despite being single and in just her early twenties, Mary Ann Hall settled, started a business, saved her money, and eventually built a large, three-story brick home at 349 Maryland Avenue (MAP) in the downtown area of southwest D.C., about four blocks west of the U.S. Capitol Building.  A 19th century entrepreneur, Mary Ann ran a successful brothel from the 1840s through the 1880s at this address, which was located on the site where the National Museum of the American Indian is currently located.

During a time when D.C. was largely devoid of economic opportunities for single women, Mary Ann’s business was very successful.  Of the 450 registered brothels in D.C. employing almost 5,000 prostitutes during the Civil War (with several thousand more in Georgetown and Alexandria), Mary Ann employed far more prostitutes than any other brothel in the city, and was the most successful.  It was also considered one of the finer establishments of its kind in D.C.

Life was good for Mary Ann.  From everything that is known about her, she enjoyed a varied and nutritious diet, including substantial amounts of meat, poultry and fish, as well as exotic fruits like coconuts and berries, foods which were for the most part unavailable to most people at that time.  She was also known to enjoy large quantities of French Champaign, and often vacationed at her summer home in Virginia’s “Alexandria County,” which is present-day land in Arlington where Marymount University is now located.

Mary Ann died where she lived her life here in D.C. in 1886 at the age of 71.  She never married nor had children, and because she had no heirs, a family feud erupted over her estate.  It is because of this that we have a detailed account of Mary Ann’s possessions.  D.C. court records show that at the time of her death, Mary Ann had no debts and was worth well over two million in today’s dollars. The records also show a list of her belongings, which included Belgian carpets, oil paintings, an ice box, numerous pieces of red plush furniture, as well as an inordinate number of sheets, mattresses, blankets, feather pillows and comforters.

When Mary Ann’s mother died in 1860, she was buried in Congressional Cemetery, where previously only members of Congress had been allowed to be buried.  Mary Ann’s highly ranked political connections from the brothel arranged for this.  When Mary Ann died six years later, she was also buried at Congressional Cemetery, near her mother, as well as her sister and other family members, at a family plot marked by “large and dignified” memorials.  So on today’s bike ride, I also stopped by Historic Congressional Cemetery (MAP) to visit her gravesite, located in section 67, not far from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s grave.

There are no known photographs to know exactly what Mary Ann looked like. And she didn’t keep a diary or write a memoir, nor did she leave a collection of personal or business correspondence, so that we could know her personality.  What is known about Mary Ann was learned from court records, census bureau documents, newspaper articles, and an archeological analysis of the area where her home once stood when it was excavated in 1999 so that the American Indian Museum could be built.

So although we know a lot about her life, we know very little about the person she was.  We do, however, get a glimpse of her from her obituary published in D.C.’s Evening Star newspaper, which sang her praises.  It reads, “With integrity unquestioned, a heart ever open to appeals of distress, a charity that was boundless, she is gone; but her memory will be kept green by many who knew her sterling worth.”

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The Lummi Nation Totem Poles

An American Indian named Jewell Praying Wolf James took it upon himself to carve a series of totem poles after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.  They were created as a healing gift on behalf of all Native American tribes.  The totems were subsequently dedicated by the Lummi tribe of Washington state as a tribute to those who died in the attacks, and installed in New York and Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon, the scenes of the crash sites on that fateful day.

The totem at the Pentagon was dedicated during the opening week of the National Museum of the American Indian in September 2004.  The Piscataway tribe also participated in the totem’s dedication, as they originally owned the land where the totem now stands.  It was later moved to the Historic Congressional Cemetery, which is located on Capitol Hill in southeast D.C. at 1801 E Street (MAP).

Carved from a single tree from Alaska, the structure lies near a grove of trees in the cemetery that were planted in memory of the victims in the 9/11 attacks.  Standing 14 feet tall and six feet around, the two vertical poles are named Liberty and Freedom.  The Liberty pole depicts a female bear with a “grandmother moon” in her abdomen. The Freedom pole depicts a male bear with “grandfather sun.”  The 36-foot Sovereignty crossbar joining the two poles has eagles carved on each end, with two sets of seven feathers representing American Airlines Flight 77, the flight that crashed into the Pentagon. The female eagle symbolizes peace, and the male symbolizes war.

The totem at Congressional Cemetery is eventually going to be moved to the September 11 Memorial Grove that is planned for Kingman Island in the Anacostia River in D.C.  But for now, the pole remains at the cemetery, where it may remain for years to come.

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