Posts Tagged ‘President Bill Clinton’

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Mama Ayesha and the Presidents

During this lunchtime bike ride as I was riding across the Duke Ellington Memorial Bridge in northwest D.C.’s Adam’s Morgan neighborhood, I saw a mural on the side of a building on the eastern end of the bridge.  So I rode over to get a better look at the mural.  I discovered it was on the side of Mama Ayesha’s Restaurant, located at 1967 Calvert Street (MAP), and depicts the restaurant’s namesake standing in front of the White House.  She is flanked on either side by eleven different presidents standing in chronological order, starting with Dwight D. Eisenhower and ending with Barack Obama. The content of the public artwork is so unusual that I just had to find out more about it.

The mural was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and private donors.  It was created in 2009 by Karla Rodas, also known as Karlísima, who is a native of El Salvador but moved with her family as a child to nearby Alexandria.  After graduating from Annandale High School and Washington University, she returned to D.C. and has since become one of the capital city’s most well-known and respected muralists.

The initial concept for the mural was planned by Mama Ayesha’s family members, who have run the restaurant since its opening in 1960. However, the original plan did not have Mama Ayesha as the centerpiece of the work. Instead, the family wanted Helen Thomas, a renowned White House reporter and regular customer at the restaurant, to be at the center of the mural. She was envisioned to be seated at a desk with pen and paper in her hand. However, Thomas politely declined the family’s request, opining that Mama Ayesha should be portrayed instead.

The final design depicts Mama Ayesha in traditional Palestinian garb standing in front of the White House. With six presidents on her right and five on her left, she stands in the middle between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, with their arms interlocked. Interspersed throughout the mural are other symbols and additional scenes and landmarks from the national capital city. They include a bald eagle, the city’s famous cherry blossoms, as well as the Lincoln Memorial and its Reflecting Pool, the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument and the United States Capitol Building.  And representations of the U.S. flag appear on the sides of the painting.

With President Obama’s successor to be determined in tomorrow’s election, I hope the mural will be updated.  There is sufficient space in front of the Reflecting Pool for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.  I very much look forward to the election being over.  And I also look forward to being able to come back to see the updated mural at some point in the near future.

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Paul Raymond Tully’s Grave Marker

Earlier this year an obituary for the late Mary Anne Noland of Richmond, Virginia, was published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper. It stated, “Faced with the prospect of voting for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, Mary Anne Noland of Richmond chose, instead, to pass into the eternal love of God on Sunday, May 15, 2016, at the age of 68.” And Noland’s obituary is not unique.  For example, an obituary for Ernest Overbey Jr., also of Richmond, ended with a request to “please vote for Donald Trump.” Similarly, the obituary for Katherine Michael Hinds, of Auburn, Alabama, suggested that “in lieu of flowers, do not vote for Donald Trump.”

Politics being important to someone, even after their death, is also not unique to the current election cycle. This became evident to me on a recent bike ride to Rock Creek Cemetery, located at 201 Allison Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Michigan Park neighborhood. There I saw the unusual grave marker for someone named Paul Raymond Tully. Aside from his name, and the dates of his birth and death, it simply read, “A Democrat.” This, combined with the appearance of the grave marker itself, compelled me to want to look into who he was, and why instead of sentiments like “Loving Husband” or “Devoted Father” or “Faithful Friend”, he was simply described by his political party affiliation.

Tully was born on May 14, 1944, in New York City, the son of working-class parents. He graduated from Yale and received a law degree at the University of Pennsylvania. But he then chose a career in politics rather than the law.  However, he did not run for office himself.  Nor was he the type of man who would eventually take some cushy political appointment in a Democratic administration. His lifelong work involved the political process, and getting a democrat elected president. Obsessed for more than two decades, he pursued this goal, thinking only a Democratic president could do the things he thought were needed to establish equity in American society.

Tully was only 48 years old when he died on September 24, 1992, in a hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he had just moved.  The coroner stated that he appeared to have died of natural causes, speculating that it was most likely a heart attack or stroke.  However, it is officially listed as unknown causes because no autopsy was allowed.

At the time of his death Tully was Director of Political Operations for the Democratic National Committee. With his roots in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, he had been closely associated with some of its most prominent figures, including Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, and Senators Gary Hart of Colorado, Walter F. Mondale of Minnesota and George McGovern of South Dakota, as well as former governor Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts. One of his party’s pre-eminent strategists, Tully had worked in every presidential campaign since 1968. And you may have already deduced from the place and timing of his death, at the time of died he was also key aide in the presidential campaign of Governor Bill Clinton.

The bronze memorial sculpture which serves as Tully’s headstone was designed by his eldest daughter, Jessica Tully. She created the nearly four and a half foot tall bronze and granite memorial, and worked with the Del Sol Foundry in California to cast and assemble the project. It consists of three elements. First, a representation of the wooden work chair from his home. On the chair is a folded copy of the New York Times from November 4, 1992, announcing the election of President Clinton. Lastly, there are two of his ubiquitous coffee cups, one for him and the other for whomever he would have been talking with, usually but not always about politics. The sculpture was not completed until more than a decade after his passing, and was unveiled at event on May 3, 2014, near what would have been his 70th birthday.

When I first saw it I just knew there would be an interesting story behind this unusual grave marker.  And I was right.  And after learning about the man, I can’t help but wonder what he would think of the current election.

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Headstone for Tip O’Neil

On my visit to Historic Congressional Cemetery during this bike ride, I happened upon a headstone for someone I knew of and remember, but didn’t know was honored at the cemetery – Tip O’Neill.  Located at 1801 E Street (MAP), in the southeast portion of D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, the cemetery got its name when in 1830 the United States Congress appropriated money for improvements, built cenotaphs to honor representatives who had died in office, and purchased several hundred burial sites to be used for members of Congress.  Although the cemetery itself is privately owned, the U.S. government owns 806 burial plots.  This includes many members of Congress who died while Congress was in session.  And I now know that Tip O’Neill is honored there among them.

Thomas Phillip “Tip” O’Neill Jr. was born, raised, and lived out almost all of his life as a resident of North Cambridge, Massachusetts.  It was also in North Cambridge where he got his start in politics. He first became active in politics at the age of 15, when he campaigned for Al Smith in the 1928 presidential election. Four years later, he helped campaign for Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Then, as a senior at Boston College, O’Neill ran for a seat on the Cambridge City Council. It was his first race, and his first and only electoral defeat. But the campaign taught him a valuable lesson that would later become his best-known quote: “All politics is local.” O’Neill’s first electoral victory came shortly after he graduated from college, when he was elected at the age of 24 to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. From there he would go on to become the first Democratic Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives in its history. He remained in that position until 1952, when he ran for the United States House of Representatives from his home district, and was elected to the congressional seat vacated by Senator-elect John F. Kennedy.

O’Neill became a very outspoken liberal Democrat and influential member of the House of Representatives. He would be reelected 16 more times, and served for 34 years. In 1977, O’Neill was elected the Speaker of the House of Representatives. He served as Speaker until his retirement a decade later, making him the only Speaker to serve for five complete consecutive Congresses, and the one of the longest-serving Speakers in U.S. history.

One of the first things that comes to my mind when remembering Tip O’Neill, particularly during the time near the end of his career, was that it was a time when politics and governing was not the animosity-filled, adversarial process that it is today. Republicans and Democrats could have differing opinions and significantly different political philosophies, but at the end of the day they were congenial, and even friendly with each other. And no two people exemplified this type of relationship better than Tip O’Neill and the President at that time, Ronald Reagan. Despite O’Neill being described by his official biographer, John Aloysius Farrell, as an “absolute, unrepentant, unreconstructed New Deal Democrat,” O’Neill was able to have a friendly relationship with a President who rehabilitated conservatism, led the modern conservative movement, and turned the nation to the right. O’Neill and Reagan vehemently disagreed on almost everything, yet were known to occasionally have a beer together at the end of the day, or get together along with their spouses for dinner.

As I stood at the headstone and thought of those bygone days, I couldn’t help but lament the decline in the civility of the current political process in this country.  I find it impossible to imagine Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, along with Melania Trump and former President Bill Clinton, ever choosing to get together socially today.  I miss the days when politicians and people could disagree with each other, yet still respect the other person and their opinion.  And I think Tip O’Neill would feel the same way.

UPDATE:  I later learned that the maker in Congressional Cemetery is actually a cenotaph, not a headstone.  A cenotaph is a monument built to honor a person or people whose remains are interred elsewhere or whose remains cannot be recovered.  Tip O’Neill is buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Harwich Port, Massachusetts.

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President Lincoln’s Cottage

On this lunchtime bike ride I visited what’s now known as President Lincoln’s “cottage”, which is a national monument located on the grounds of the “Old Soldiers’ Home,” known today as the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home.  Located in northwest D.C. near the Petworth and Park View neighborhoods (MAP), the Gothic Revival-style residence, a style considered particularly appropriate at that time for country cottages, has a very interesting history.

Originally known as the “Corn Rigs” cottage, it was built in 1842 by wealthy D.C. banker George Washington Riggs, at his 250-acre summer retreat.  The word “cottage”, however, is somewhat of a misnomer inasmuch as it is actually a 34-room country home.  Almost a decade later, Riggs offered to sell his property to the Federal government, which was looking for a place to create a home for retired and disabled Army veterans.  An army committee purchased the estate in 1851 and utilized the house to create the Old Soldiers’ Home later the same year.  Six years later, in 1857, the retired soldier residents moved into a newly-built large stone Gothic building near the cottage. 

With the cottage now vacant, the Old Soldiers’ Home invited President James Buchanan to make his summer residence there.  Accepting the offer, President Buchanan spent a few weeks out of at least two summers at the cottage during the remainder of his presidency.

Presumably on the recommendation of President Buchanan, the next president, Abraham Lincoln, first visited the Old Soldiers’ Home just three days after his first inauguration.  Later, President Lincoln and his family would escape to the cottage between June and November in 1862, 1863, and 1864.   The family would almost certainly have returned in 1865 if President Lincoln had not been assassinated in April of that year.  In all, President Lincoln and his family spent over a quarter of his Presidency there. Each summer the White House staff transported some 19 cartloads of the Lincoln family’s belongings to the cottage. Unfortunately, there is no record of exactly what they brought.

With the Civil War officially commencing just a month after he was inaugurated, Lincoln could not escape the Civil War and his burden of leadership, even at the cottage. Every morning the President rode by horseback to the White House to carry out official business, returning to the cottage every evening.  Today, the drive down Georgia Avenue takes just a few minutes, but in the 1860s the commute through what was then a mostly wilderness area was a little slower and more dangerous.  The cavalry units that were to eventually accompanied him on his commute, as well as the encampments, hospitals, and cemeteries he passed on his was to work served, as constant reminders of the war.

It was while staying at the cottage, in fact, that President Lincoln came his closest to the war.  On July 12, 1864, when Confederate General Jubal Early attacked Fort Stevens, the President brashly went to observe the nearby battle, even though his family had been evacuated to the White House for the four days of the battle.  It was during this time that President Lincoln became the only president ever to come under hostile fire while in office.  During the second day of the battle, as he stood on atop the parapet of the fort to witness the battle, the President came under direct fire of Confederate sharpshooters.  Perhaps saving his life, a young officer named Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who would eventually go on to serve as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, shouted to the President, “Get down, you damn fool!”

Other interesting events for which President Lincoln’s cottage served as the backdrop include the fact that the President was staying at the cottage when he wrote the final draft of the Emancipation Proclamation in September of 1862.  And in August of 1864, a sniper attempted to assassinate the President as he traveled back to the cottage alone late at night.  The lone rifle shot missed Lincoln’s head by inches, but during the attempt the President lost the hat he was wearing.  The following day, two soldiers went looking for the hat.  They discovered it on the path, with a bullet hole through the side.  Also, in the summer of 1864, John Wilkes Booth, who would later in April of 1865 successfully assassinate President Lincoln, formulated his original plot, which was to kidnap the President during his commute from the cottage to the White House.

President Lincoln reportedly made his last visit to the cottage on April 13, 1865, the day before his assassination.  But he was not the last president to take advantage of the healthy breezes at the cottage.  Rutherford B. Hayes spent the summers of 1877 to 1880 there.  And Chester A. Arthur stayed at the cottage during renovations at the White House in the winter of 1882, and spent summers there as well.

In more recent years, the cottage has been recognized for its historical significance. The Secretary of the Interior designated the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home, which includes the pre-Civil War cottage, as a National Historic Landmark in November of 1973.  President Bill Clinton declared the cottage and 2.3 surrounding acres a National Monument in July of 2000.  To this day it holds the distinction of being the only national monument in the country that operates with no Federal funding.  The following year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation began a thorough restoration of the cottage, restoring it to the period of Lincoln’s occupancy according to standards established by the National Park Service. The restoration was completed in 2007.  President Lincoln’s Cottage was then opened to the public for the first time in history on President’s Day in 2008. It remains open today, and is managed through a cooperative agreement between the Armed Forces Retirement Home and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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Click on this photo to take a virtual tour of the inside of The Lincoln Cottage.

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

When it comes to Presidential memorials in D.C., there have been occasions when people decide after the memorial is completed that it is not quite right, or not big enough, or somehow unbefitting the president who it is intended to honor. And instead of accepting or even modifying the original memorial, they build a second, grander presidential memorial, often in what is considered a more prominent location. And interestingly, it is usually the second memorial with which the public is most familiar.  This happened when The Original Washington Monument was deemed insufficient, and the giant obelisk on the National Mall was erected to honor our nation’s first president.

The same type of thing happened again more recently when the existing memorial to our nation’s 32nd president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was deemed inadequate, and another, larger memorial was constructed near the Tidal Basin (MAP), which is considered one of the most prominent locations in the national capitol city. It was to this memorial that I went on today’s bike ride.

The Original FDR Memorial, which relatively few people know about, is located near the corner of 9th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. In accordance with Roosevelt’s expressed wishes, the original memorial was erected in 1965 “in the center of the green plot in front of The National Archives and Records Administration Building (and) consists of a block about the size of (his) desk.”

Thirty-two years later, in contradiction to Roosevelt’s specific wishes, the more well-known FDR Memorial was dedicated.  The newer memorial is large, even by D.C. standards. Spread out over seven and a half acres on the southern side of The Tidal Basin, it traces 12 years of the history of the U.S. through a sequence of four outdoor “rooms,” one for each of his terms in office, from 1933 until his death in 1945.

The design of the memorial, by landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, was chosen in 1978, and it opened to the public in 1997 after a dedication ceremony led by President Bill Clinton.  As an historic area managed by the National Park Service, the memorial is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The memorial contains a number of sculptures inspired by famous photographs of Roosevelt. One depicts the 32nd president alongside his pet Scottie named Fala. It is the only presidential pet to be memorialized. Other sculptures depict scenes from the Great Depression, such as listening to a fireside chat on the radio and waiting in a bread line. Also included is a bronze statue of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt standing before the United Nations (UN) emblem, honoring her dedication to the UN. It is the only presidential memorial to depict a First Lady. Water is also used prominently in the memorial as a metaphorical device, including waterfalls depicting World War II and the Great Depression, and a still pool representing the 32nd president’s death.

However, like many memorials and monuments in D.C., the FDR Memorial is not without controversy. Taking into consideration Roosevelt’s disability, the memorial’s design is intended to make it accessible to those with various physical impairments. For example, the memorial includes an area with tactile reliefs with braille writing for people who are visually impaired. However, the memorial faced serious criticism from disabled activists because the braille dots were improperly spaced and some of the braille and reliefs were mounted eight feet off of the ground, placing it physically above the reach of most people.

Another controversy involves one of the statues of Roosevelt. Against the wishes of some disability-rights advocates and historians, the memorial’s designers initially decided against plans to have Roosevelt shown in a wheelchair. Although Roosevelt used a wheelchair in private, it was hidden from the public because of the stigma of weakness which was associated with any disability at that time. So instead, the main statue in the memorial depicts the president in a chair, with a cloak obscuring the chair, which is how he usually appeared to the public during his lifetime. In a compromise, casters were added to the back of the chair, making it a symbolic “wheelchair”. However, the casters are only visible from behind the statue, and this compromise did not satisfy either side. Eventually, an additional statue was added and placed near the memorial’s entrance which clearly depicts Roosevelt in a wheelchair much like the one he actually used.

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The Memorial to Japanese-American Patriotism in World War II

The Memorial to Japanese-American Patriotism in World War II

The Memorial to Japanese-American Patriotism in World War II is a memorial and monument designed by Davis Buckley and Japanese American artist Nina Akamu. It is located near Union Station and across from Upper Senate Park, at the intersection of Louisiana Avenue, New Jersey Avenue and D Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Downtown East neighborhood. And it was the destination of this bike ride.

The concept for the memorial began with The National Japanese American Memorial Foundation in 1988, and legislative approval for the construction of the memorial and sculpture was passed by Congress four years later.  Groundbreaking for the memorial did not begin for another seven years. The Memorial was finally dedicated in November of 2000.

The memorial commemorates Japanese-American involvement, service and patriotism during World War II, as well as those held in Japanese-American internment camps during that time. More than 33,000 Japanese-Americans rose above adversity to serve in the military with distinction. Many did so as members of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team fighting up the rugged Italian Peninsula and across Southern France. Others were members of the 100th Infantry Battalion, the Military Intelligence Service, or other units. They interrogated Japanese prisoners and translated Japanese documents in the Pacific and China-Burma-India Theaters. Over eight hundred of these loyal Japanese-Americans were killed in action serving their country.

They served despite the great irony of the U.S.’s forced confinement of more than 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry, many the service members’ families, who were held during the war in camps that often were isolated, uncomfortable, and overcrowded. With less than two weeks notice, and without trials, the U.S. Government forced these Americans of Japanese ancestry to leave their homes and businesses, abandoning millions of dollars in property. The refugees were then sent to large confinement sites in the western, southwestern, and southern United States, while others went to smaller facilities across the nation.

The Memorial has a series of panels that lists the names of those Japanese-Americans who gave the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of the fellow citizens.  The walls of the Memorial also contain a number of relevant quotes engraved in stone , as well as information about the location of the ten internment sites during the war, and the number of those interned at the sites.

However, the central feature of the Memorial to Japanese-American Patriotism in World War II is a statue depicting two Japanese cranes caught in barbed wire, on top of a tall pedestal made of green Vermont marble. Rising above the rest of the memorial, the cranes are visible from beyond the memorial walls, which symbolically celebrates the ability to rise beyond limitations. Their postures reflect one another – one wing pointing upwards, the other downwards, mirroring each other as they represent the duality of the universe. Pressing their bodies against one another and seeming to hold onto the barbed wire, the birds at the same time show individual effort to escape restraint as well as the need for communal support and interdependency on one another.

The symbolism and meaning of the Memorial to Japanese-American Patriotism in World War II was perhaps best expressed at its dedication ceremony when then-U.S Attorney General Janet Reno shared a letter from President Bill Clinton, which stated, “We are diminished when any American is targeted unfairly because of his or her heritage. This memorial and the internment sites are powerful reminders that stereotyping, discrimination, hatred and racism have no place in this country.”

 

Women In Military Service For America Memorial

Women In Military Service For America Memorial

On this bike ride I went to see the Women in Military Service for America Memorial (WIMSA). Many people who have seen this relatively new memorial are not even aware that they have. Almost any visit to Arlington National Cemetery includes seeing the WIMSA, because the memorial is located at the western end of Memorial Drive (MAP) as a ceremonial entrance to Arlington National.

In the early 1980s, women veterans began pressing for a memorial to women in the U.S. armed services.  They initially won the formal support of the American Veterans Committee (AVC), which was founded in 1943 as a liberal veterans organization and an alternative to groups such as the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, which supported a conservative political and social agenda.  The AVC established the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation (WMSAMF) to raise funds and lobby Congress for a memorial.  The foundation turned first to the larger veterans groups, and won the support of both the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.  With most veterens solidly behind the effort, the decision to build the memorial was essentially a foregone conclusion, and legislation for the Memorial was introduced and passed the House of Representatives in November 1985.

After her retirement from the U.S. Air Force in 1985, Brigadier General Wilma L. Vaught became the primary spokesperson for the WMSAMF.  According to Vaught, she was elected president of the memorial foundation because she missed the first meeting and was not there to turn down the honor.  Under her leadership, the site selection process identified its current location.  And even though the existing Hemicycle and entrance to the cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, permission was granted to modify the site to create the WIMSA.  The design was then selected through a national competition.  Finally, construction of the Memorial began, and was in progress for approximately 11 years.

The WIMSA was officially dedicated October 18, 1997.  The Memorial dedication ceremony began with a fly-over of military aircraft, all of which were piloted by women.  This was the first time in U.S. history that an all-female fly-over had occurred. Speakers at the event included Secretary of Defense William Cohen, Vice President Al Gore and Tipper Gore, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Sandra Day O’Connor, retired General John Shalikashvili, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Hugh Shelton.  President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton addressed the audience via taped message, as they were on a state visit to South Africa.  But the highlight of the dedication ceremony was 101-year-old Frieda Mae Greene Hardin, a veteran of World War I.  She was escorted to the speaker’s podium by her 73-year-old son, and wore her World War I Navy yeoman’s uniform.  An estimated 30,000 people attended the ceremony.  The Memorial was permanently opened to the general public two days later.

The WIMSA site is the 4.2-acre ceremonial etrance to Arlington National Cemetery. A 30-foot high curved neoclassical retaining wall stands at the entrance, with an education center in the cemetery hillside behind the existing retaining wall. The Memorial incorporates a reflecting pool on the plaza in front of the curved gateway, or hemicycle.  And the Memorial’s roof is an arc of glass tablets inscribed with quotations by and about women who have served in defense of their country. Sunlight passing over these quotes creates changing shadows of the texts on the walls of the gallery below and brings natural light into the interior of the Education Center.  Four staircases pass through the hemicycle wall, allowing visitors access to the education center, as well as a panoramic view of D.C. from the terrace.

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Sonny Bono Memorial Park

Sonny Bono Memorial Park

In 1994 Salvatore Phillip “Sonny” Bono was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from California’s 44th Congressional District.  A conservative Republican, Bono was swept into office as part of the Newt Gingrich-led Republican “revolution” that year, and was re-elected in 1996.  However, Bono’s Congressional career and life were tragically cut short when he died in January of 1998, of injuries sustained when he hit a tree while skiing in Lake Tahoe.

At the height of his musical career, if you had made a friendly wager as to which recent or current popular singer might go on to serve in Congress two decades later, you might have picked someone with an apparent political agenda, like Joan Baez, or at least one who was associated with some kind of cause, like nature-lover John Denver.  You almost certainly wouldn’t have placed your bet on Bono, a singer of arguably limited talents who appeared content to stand, literally and figuratively, in the shadow of his far more popular wife, Cherilyn Sarkisian, better known as, simply, Cher.

Two decades before being elected to Congress, Bono’s entertainment career was coming to an end, with the cancellation of the popular television variety show, The Sonny and Cher Show, which ran on CBS from 1971 to 1974.  As part of an attempted comeback, the couple returned to performing together and revived The Sonny and Cher Show in 1976, despite being divorced the previous year. That effort failed to generate strong ratings and was also cancelled.  Their last appearance together was on Late Night with David Letterman on November 14, 1987.

After parting ways with Cher, Bono’s music and acting career faded and he fell almost completely out of the public eye.  Bono soon found a new vocation after leaving show business, however, and became a very successful businessman and restaurateur. Later, he became interested in politics when he decided he wanted a bigger sign for a restaurant he’d opened and ran straight into bureaucratic red tape, dealing with the city government. Bono had never voted or registered before, but resolved to change things by running for mayor.  He won the election, served a successful four-year term, and wound up pursuing a whole new career as a politician.  Following a failed run in the California Republican Senatorial primary in 1992, Bono turned his attention to the 44th District’s Congressional seat, which he won in 1994.  After being elected, Bono was quoted as saying, “The last thing in the world I thought I would be is a U.S. Congressman, given all the bobcat vests and Eskimo boots I used to wear.”

During his time in office, Bono did not treat his fellow lawmakers to any singing performances, but the man behind the hits “I Got You Babe” and “The Beat Goes On” did trade on his public persona as a good-natured, non-threatening nice guy.   He had a reputation for being self-deprecating, and prided himself on not taking himself — or being taken — too seriously.  This served him well in his political career.  As The Washington Post noted in its obituary following his death, “Bono brought to Congress a rare skill: He could make lawmakers—even the most pompous among them—laugh at themselves.”  Or as President Bill Clinton said, “His joyful entertainment of millions earned him celebrity, but in Washington he earned respect by being a witty and wise participant in policymaking processes that often seem ponderous to the American people.”

In remembrance of Bono’s election to his first term in Congress, on one of my bike rides I went to Sonny Bono Memorial Park in Northwest D.C., located at the intersection of New Hampshire Avenue, 20th Street, and O Street (MAP) near DuPont Circle.  The small park was established in 1998 after Bono’s death by a friend named Geary Simon, who is a D.C. real estate developer.  Simon approached the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation’s Park Partners Program, and using his own money, revitalized an unused 800-square-foot triangle of grass.  His improvements included installing an underground sprinkler system, planting new Kentucky bluegrass and a Japanese maple, as well as benches and a wrought-iron fence.

The park also features a buried vault of Sonny Bono memorabilia that was donated by family and friends.  Items in the vault included his official Congressional cufflinks, and a coffee mug from his string of Bono’s Restaurants.  Adding a little mystery to the vault, it is reported that two sealed envelopes that were given to Simon were included in the vault and buried without being opened.  The vault also includes the sheet music for “The Beat Goes On.”  And so it does.

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