Posts Tagged ‘President Calvin Coolidge’

The National Christmas Tree

The National Christmas Tree

On this bike ride I went by the Ellipse in President’s Park (MAP), just south of the White House.  It was at this location that the first National Christmas Tree was placed in December of 1923.  The tree was a 48-foot Balsam fir donated by the President of Middlebury College in Vermont, and was decorated with 2,500 electric bulbs in red, white and green, donated by the Electric League of Washington.  At 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve, President Calvin Coolidge walked from the White House to the Ellipse to light the tree from his native state.  Music for this first lighting ceremony was provided by a local choir and a “quartet” from the U.S. Marine Band.

It has now been almost a century since that first National Christmas Tree was illuminated, and the American holiday tradition will continue later today. This evening President Obama and his family will flip the switch for the 92nd annual lighting of the National Christmas Tree. This year’s ceremony is sponsored by the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks, and will be hosted by actor Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson. Scheduled performers for tonight’s lighting ceremony include multi Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter NE-YO, multiplatinum-selling artist Steve Miller, and country star Chely Wright along with pop phenomenon Fifth Harmony, Grammy-winning legend Patti LaBelle, pop world duo Nico & Vinz, and award-winning vocal group The Tenors, who will all be performing a collection of holiday favorites.

Santa Claus, who has been known to drop by for past Christmas tree lightings, just might make another appearance this year as well. However, if you don’t see him this evening, he and his elves will be at his workshop near the tree on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 12.30 – 9.30 pm through December 21.  After that, he and his elves will return to the North Pole to finish getting ready for the big day.

If you don’t already have tickets for this evening, don’t even plan to go. Free tickets were given out weeks ago through a national lottery that closed on October 20th. But even if you can’t be there, you can experience it online live. The pre-show starts at 4:30 pm this afternoon, and along with the lighting ceremony can be viewed live online.  Following today’s online stream, the show will also be available anytime on-demand. The event will also air on public television throughout the month of December.  For broadcast times, check local listings or the National Christmas Tree Lighting website.

The National Tree and all of the state trees surrounding it will be lit from dusk until 10 p.m. through New Year’s Day. Plus there will be free musical performances each day from musical groups from D.C. and across the country. No tickets are required for the nightly entertainment.

Since the lighting ceremony takes place in the evening and my daily break for a lunchtime bike ride always comes during the day, I was not able to see the illuminated tree on this ride. However, one of the other features surrounding the National Christmas Tree can be seen during the day. That is the National Christmas Tree Railroad.  Celebrating it’s 21st year, the National Christmas Tree Railroad is a group of large-scale model trains which are sponsored, constructed and operated by a group of non-paid volunteers who operate the trains in a display around the base of the tree. It is one of my favorite aspects of the display, and makes a trip to see the National Christmas Tree worth it, even during the daytime.

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The Federal Election Commission Headquarters

The Federal Election Commission Headquarters

Election Day in the United States is the day set by law for general elections, and occurs on the day after the first Monday in November. (Note that the “day after the first Monday” does not equal the “first Tuesday” in a month when the first day of the month is a Tuesday.) The earliest possible date is November 2nd and the latest possible date is November 8th.   On this bike ride, in recognition of today being Election Day, I stopped by the headquarters for the Federal Election Commission. It is located at 999 E Street (MAP), across from FBI Headquarters and next door to the Hard Rock Café in northwest D.C.

Historically, when an election day for a Presidential election falls on today’s date, November 4th, it was generally very good for Republicans throughout the 20th century. The streak began when Election Day fell on November 4th back in 1924, and Calvin Coolidge was elected to the country’s top office. Coolidge was already in the office of President, having to complete the term of Warren G. Harding, who died while in office. This time, and on this day, he was voted into office by the people of the U.S., and served another four years. History repeated itself in 1952 when Dwight D. Eisenhower was running against Democrat Adlai Stevenson. Once again, Election Day was on November 4, and “Ike” won. It was the first Republican presidential victory in 24 years. Eisenhower became the 34th U.S. President. When Election Day fell on November 4th again in1980, it was a good year for Republicans all around. Most of those Republicans running for seats in the U.S. Senate were victors, winning a majority of the seats. And in a landslide, Ronald Reagan won the race for President against the Democrat incumbent, Jimmy Carter.

Before 1924, it was a different story: Democrat Grover Cleveland made it to the top in 1884; and Democrat James Buchanan was elected President of the U.S. on November 4, 1856. Unfortunately, the Republican victory streak did not continue into this century either. It ended five years ago today, on November 4, 2008, in the first presidential election held on November 4 in the 21st century. In that election, Democrat Barack Obama was elected President. The next November 4 Presidential election will be in 2036.

However, there is not a presidential election this year. The general elections being held today are considered “mid-term elections.” These elections include all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and 33 of the 100 seats in the U.S. Senate; along with the governorships of 36 of the 50 states and three U.S. territories, 46 state legislatures (except Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia), four territorial legislatures, and numerous state and local races.

Voter turnout in national elections varies in countries throughout the world. In Belgium, which has compulsory voting, and Malta, which does not, participation reaches 95 percent. Voter turnout in this country averages only 48 percent. And voter turnout in this country decreases for midterm elections. Only 39.9 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot during the last mid-term elections, and estimates indicate voter turnout could be even lower this time around. So if the predictions are correct, more than 6 out of 10 eligible voters will not participate in today’s elections. That makes each vote even more important. So make sure you vote early. And as is the tradition if you’re in Chicago, vote often.

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The James Cardinal Gibbons Memorial

The James Cardinal Gibbons Memorial

The James Cardinal Gibbons Memorial Statue is a public artwork, and is located in front of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic parish, in a median at the confluence of 16th Street, Park Road and Sacred Heart Way (MAP), in northwest D.C.’s Columbia Heights neighborhood.

The statue depicts a bronze figure of James Gibbons seated, wearing cardinals robes, with his right hand in a raised position as if giving a blessing.  In his left hand he is holding a cross that hangs from his neck.  The base, which is made of granite, has a relief of a shield topped with an ecclesiastical hat. The shield has the coat of arms of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and the Cardinal’s personal coat of arms.  Around the shield are rows of tassels that represent the ranks of clergy. The statue was authorized by Congress and President Calvin Coolidge on April 23, 1928, at no expense to the United States. The piece was commissioned by the Knights of Columbus, and created by Italian sculptor Leo Lentelli.  It was unveiled in August of 1932, a date chosen to coincide with the Knights of Columbus’ 50th anniversary.  The statue was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.

Cardinal James Gibbons was born in 1834 in Baltimore, Maryland, to Irish immigrant parents.  After his father fell ill with tuberculosis, he moved the family back to Ireland, where he believed the air would benefit him.  After his father died in 1847, his mother moved 19-year old James and the rest of the family back to the United States in 1853, settling in New Orleans, Louisiana.

After deciding to pursue the priesthood, Gibbons entered St. Charles College in Ellicott City, Maryland.  After graduating from St. Charles, he entered St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore.  On June 30, 1861, Gibbons was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Francis Kenrick of Baltimore, and served during the Civil War as a volunteer chaplain at Fort McHenry.  In 1868, at the age of 34, he became one of the youngest Catholic bishops in the world, and was known by the nickname “the boy bishop.”  From 1869 to 1870, Gibbons attended the First Vatican Council in Rome, and ultimately was the last of its participants to die.  In 1877, the Baltimore-born Gibbons became the head of the oldest archdiocese in the United States. Also in 1887, he helped found The Catholic University of America in D.C., and served as its first chancellor.  Nine years later, in 1886, Pope Leo XIII named him as the second-ever U.S. cardinal.

A man who was often viewed as the face of the Catholic Church in America, Gibbons was also an advocate of the labor movement of those days, and played a key role in obtaining permission from the Pope for Catholics to join labor unions.  And in his dealings with the Vatican, he and other “Americanizers” championed the separation of church and state.

An ardent proponent of American civic institutions, Gibbons called the U.S. Constitution the finest instrument of government ever created.   He was also a frequent visitor to the White House.  Gibbons knew every president from Andrew Johnson to Warren Harding, and served as an advisor to many of them.  President William Howard Taft honored him for his humanitarian work at the 1911 golden jubilee celebration of his ordination. And in 1917, President Theodore Roosevelt hailed him as “the most venerated, respected and useful citizen in America.”


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.




The John Ericsson National Memorial

When riding in  West Potomac Park  on the Rock Creek Park Trail which runs along the North shore of the Potomac River, you will find the John Ericsson National Memorial, which is located near the National Mall at Ohio Drive and Independence Avenue in southwest D.C. (MAP).

The memorial is dedicated to the Swedish-born engineer-inventor who is best known for his work during the Civil War when he transformed naval warfare through his design of the iron-plated USS Monitor, the ship that ensured Union naval supremacy. He also revolutionized maritime history with his invention of the screw propeller.  Later Ericsson designed other naval vessels and weapons, including a type of torpedo and a Destroyer, a torpedo boat that could fire a cannon from an underwater port.

The memorial was originally authorized by Congress in 1916, and was completed a decade later.  It was dedicated in 1926 by President Calvin Coolidge and Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden. Congress appropriated just over half the cost of creating  the memorial, with the remainder being raised privately by Americans chiefly of Scandinavian descent.

The memorial is constructed out of pink Milford granite, and measures 20 feet high with a 150-foot diameter base.  It features a seated figure of Ericsson in the front, and three standing figures behind him.  These figures represent adventure, labor, and vision.  It is maintained by the National Mall and Memorial Parks (also known as National Capital Parks-Central), which is an administrative unit of the National Park Service encompassing many national memorials and other areas in D.C.  The statue is part of a group of statues entitled “The Civil War Monuments in Washington, D.C.” which are spread out through much of the central and northwest areas of the city.  They are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

Although none of his inventions created any large industries, he is regarded as one of the most influential mechanical engineers ever. Ericsson died on March 8, 1889, the anniversary of the famous Battle of Hampton Roads of which his famous Monitor played a central role.