Posts Tagged ‘President Franklin D. Roosevelt’

The Department of Justice Building

Many people are not aware that eight Nazi saboteurs landed on our country’s shores early during World War II with the intent to commit sabotage.  Their names were George John Dasch, Ernst Peter Burger, Herbert Haupt, Heinrich Heinck, Eddie Kerling, Herman Otto Neubauer, Richard Quirin, and Werner Thiel.  Even fewer are aware that during this week in 1942, six of those saboteurs were executed here in D.C.

Operation Pastorius was a failed German plan for sabotage inside the U.S. during World War II. The operation was staged in June of 1942 and was to be directed against strategic American homeland targets.  In all, eight saboteurs were dropped off near shore by Nazi submarines and were able to make it to the U.S. mainland — four of them near Long Island, New York and the other four near Jacksonville, Florida.  After one of them turned himself in, the largest manhunt in the history of the FBI began for the remaining seven.  Within nine days, all of the saboteurs were captured.

Fearful that a civilian court would be too lenient, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Proclamation 2561 on July 2, 1942, creating a military tribunal to prosecute the German agents under a veil of secrecy.  Lawyers for the accused attempted to have the case tried in a civilian court but were rebuffed by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case that was later cited as a precedent for trial by military tribunal of any unlawful combatant against the U.S., including those currently being held in the military prison at Guantanamo Bay as part of the War on Terror.

The military tribunal took place in July of 1942 in Assembly Hall # 1 on the fifth floor of the U.S. Justice Department building on Pennsylvania Avenue.  All eight would-be saboteurs pleaded innocent, denouncing any allegiance to Adolph Hitler or the Third Reich. The prosecution, headed by the U.S. Attorney General, asked for the tribunal, consisting of seven military generals, for the death penalty.  All eight Germans were found guilty.   Exactly one month later, based on the Presidentially approved recommendation of the military tribunal, six of the eight were executed in the electric chair on the third floor of the D.C. Jail.  They were subsequently buried in a potter’s field called Blue Plains in the Anacostia area of D.C.  The other two Germans, George John Dasch and Ernst Peter Burger, were sentenced to terms of 30 years to life at hard labor.

On today’s bike ride, I went by the U.S. Department of Justice Building where the first military tribunal against an enemy combatant was held.  I also rode by the District of Columbia jail, where they were executed in the electric chair on the third floor.  I also rode to the Anacostia neighborhood in southeast D.C., where those who were executed were buried in unmarked graves in a potters field.

A look at the statistics will show how things have changed dramatically over the past 71 years.  During World War II, there were a total of eight enemy combatants charged by the U.S.   All eight were tried, convicted and sentenced, and the sentences were carried out.  There were only 57 days between June 12th when the Germans first landed on U.S. soil with plans to commit sabotage, until their sentences were carried out and they were executed or began serving their prison sentences on August 8th.

By comparison, the statistics for today’s enemy combatants is much different.  In the current military tribunal process, the shortest time between initial capture and conviction was five years, three months and the longest time nine years, seven months.

To date, 779 detainees have been held at the Guantanamo Bay facility since the War on Terror began after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.  Of the 779 detainees, roughly 600 were eventually released without charges, many after being detained for years.  The total number of detainees currently remaining at Guantanamo stands at 41, although 5 of the 41 detainees have been approved by the U.S. for release to home or third countries but remain at Guantanamo.  There have been 15 children under age 18 who have been held at Guantanamo.  Nine Guantanamo detainees have died while in custody, six by suspected suicide. Only seven detainees have been convicted in the War on Terror military tribunals.  And of the 41 detainees that currently remain at Guantanamo, 26 have not yet been charged with a crime.

Today’s ride reinforced for me how important it is to know what your government has done, and is doing.

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Above are the FBI mugshot photos for: 1.George John Dasch;  2. Ernst Peter Burger;  3. Herbert Haupt;  4. Heinrich Heinck; 5. Eddie Kerling; 6. Herman Otto Neubauer; 7. Richard Quirin, and; 8. Werner Thiel.

Protestor in Front of the White House

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The Bernard Baruch Bench of Inspiration

On today’s bike ride I stopped in Lafayette Square Park (MAP) to eat my lunch.  And as I was sitting on a bench near the Andrew Jackson statue in the middle of the park, I noticed a bronze plaque on a granite base next to the bench. The plaque reads: “The Bernard Baruch Bench of Inspiration; Dedicated in Honor of Mr. Baruch’s 90th Birthday – August 19, 1960 For His Inspiring Devotion to Country And Distinguished Service to Boyhood; By Both The National Capital Area Council and The Boy Scouts Of America; The Boy Scout Motto — Mr. Baruch’s Philosophy; ‘Be Prepared’.”  So naturally, I had to look into who Bernard Baruch was, and why he had a bench in the park dedicated to him.

Bernard Mannes Baruch was born in August of 1870, in Camden, South Carolina. He grew up in New York City, where his family moved when he was eleven years old, and graduated from the City College of New York.   After graduating in 1889, Baruch initially worked as an office boy in a linen business before later starting work as a broker and then a partner at A.A. Housman & Company. With his earnings and commissions, he bought a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, where he amassed a fortune while he was still in his twenties.

After his success in business, Baruch left Wall Street in 1916 to become an adviser President Woodrow Wilson during World War I. Three years later President Wilson asked him to serve as a staff member at the Paris Peace Conference, where Baruch supported Wilson’s view pertaining to the creation of the League of Nations. In the 1920s and 30s, Baruch remained a prominent government adviser, and supported Franklin D. Roosevelt’s domestic and foreign policy initiatives after his election, which included being part of the President’s “Brain Trust” during the New Deal.  During this time he also expressed his concern that the United States needed to be prepared for the possibility of another world war. Then when the United States entered World War II, President Roosevelt appointed Baruch a special adviser. And after World War II, President Harry S. Truman appointed Baruch as the United States representative to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission, where he played an instrumental role in formulating policy regarding the international control of atomic energy.  The designation of “elder statesman” was applied to him perhaps more often than to any other American of his time, and he continued to be active until his death in June of 1965 at the age of 94.

While I found the information about this successful American investor, financier, philanthropist, statesman, and political advisor interesting, I was still curious about why there was a “bench of inspiration” dedicated to him.  It turns out that Baruch was well-known, and often walked or sat in Lafayette Square Park across from the White House.  And it was not uncommon for him to passionately discuss politics and government affairs with other people and passersby while sitting on his favorite bench in the park.  He even preferred to meet with Presidents and other important people in the park as well.  In fact, this became one of his most famous characteristics, resulting in him coming to be known as the “the Park Bench Statesman.”

So in 1960, within days of his ninetieth birthday, a commemorative park bench in the his favorite spot across from the White House was dedicated to him by the Boy Scouts.  When told of the bench and the planned ceremony to dedicate it, “Baruch said he hoped ‘the young people, who are the future of our country’ might receive inspiration from sitting on this bench in the future, as he had over the years.”  So maybe I have some things I need to think through or a big decision to make, I’ll head over to Lafayette Square Park, sit on the bench and hope for a little inspiration.

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

NOTE:  Some of the quotes attributed to Bernard Baruch gives us some insight into the advice he provided to Presidents and others.  It who Baruch who is quoted as having said, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”  He also said, “Every man has a right to his opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts.”

More of Baruch’s wisdom is evident by what he said the bench.  Baruch said,”In this hectic Age of Distraction, all of us need to pause every now and then in what we are doing to examine where the rush of the world and of our own activities is taking us. Even an hour or two spent in such detached contemplation on a park bench will prove rewarding.”

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Field Marshall Sir John Dill Statue and Gravesite

During this week in 1944, British Field Marshal Sir John Dill passed away here in D.C. A memorial service was subsequently held for him in Washington National Cathedral, and the route of the cortege was lined by thousands of troops, following which he was interred in Arlington National Cemetery. Later that year he was posthumously awarded the American Distinguished Service Medal. He also received an unprecedented joint resolution of Congress expressing appreciation for his services. So on this lunchtime bike ride, I set out to visit his grave (MAP), and then learn more about the British general who was so well thought of during his time here in this country.

John Greer Dill was born on Christmas Day, 1881, in County Armagh, Ireland. Always destined for a career in the military, Dill attended the Methodist College Belfast, Cheltenham College and the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. At the age of 19, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant and sent to South Africa to serve in the Second Boer War. He then served in World War I. Dill was promoted to the office of director of military operations and intelligence of the British War Office in 1934 and knighted for service to the empire three years later, in 1937. He would then go on to also serve during World War II.

From May of 1940 to December of 1941 he was the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, the professional head of the British Army. He subsequently was to the United States by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, where he became Chief of the British Joint Staff Mission and then Senior British Representative on the Combined Chiefs of Staff. It was during this time that Dill developed a close personal friendship with George C. Marshall, the U.S. chief of staff, which resulted in the formation of the “special relationship” between the United Kingdom and the United States. This is evidenced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt description of Dill as “the most important figure in the remarkable accord which has been developed in the combined operations of our two countries.”

Upon Dill’s death, Marshall intervened to have Dill buried at Arlington National Cemetery.  Dill’s plot is marked by one of only two equestrian statues in the cemetery (the other being of Major General Philip Kearny). The Dill statue is located in a prominent spot most visitors to the cemetery pass by en route from the Visitors Center to Arlington House or the The John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame and grave site. There, he is interred alongside his “American friends and associates,” and to this day remains the only foreigner to be so honored.

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

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The Mary McLeod Bethune Memorial Statue

On this lunchtime bike ride I rode to Lincoln Park, which is the largest urban park in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of northeast D.C., as well as one of the oldest parks in the national capitol city. Situated one mile directly east of the United States Capitol Building and four blocks northeast of Historic Eastern Market, it is bounded by 11th Street on the west, 13th Street on the east, the westbound lanes of East Capitol Street on the North, and East Capitol Street’s eastbound lanes on the south (MAP).  I rode to the park to see the memorial to Mary McLeod Bethune, which is in the eastern end of the park, directly across the park’s plaza, opposite The Emancipation Memorial.

Mary Jane McLeod was born on July 10, 1875, in a small log cabin in Mayesville, South Carolina. She was the fifteenth of seventeen children born to Sam and Patsy McIntosh McLeod, both former slaves. At an early age Mary began working, both in fields and by accompanying her mother to deliver “white people’s” laundry. She was also allowed to go into the white children’s nursery, where she became fascinated with their toys. One day when she picked up a book a white child took it away from her, saying that she didn’t know how to read. It was then that Mary decided that the only difference between white and colored folk was the ability to read and write. This inspired her to want to learn, and eventually to want to educate others.

McLeod began attending the local, one-room black schoolhouse. She was the only child in her family to attend school, but each day she would come home and teach her family what she had learned. Her teacher, Emma Jane Wilson, became young Mary’s mentor, and even helped Mary get a scholarship to attend her alma mater, Scotia Seminary, now known as Barber-Scotia College. She later also attended Dwight L. Moody’s Institute for Home and Foreign Missions in Chicago, now the Moody Bible Institute. She had initially hoped to become a missionary in Africa. But after being told that black missionaries were not needed, she began a teaching career that would become a large part of her lasting legacy.

Mary married Albertus Bethune in 1898, with whom she had a son named Albert the following year.  Albertus left the family in 1907 and relocated to South Carolina, but they never got a divorce. Albertus subsequently died from tuberculosis in 1918.  Albert Bethune grew up to become the coordinator of vocational services at Bethune-Cookman College, which was founded by his mother, where he worked until he retired.  He passed away at the age of 90 in 1989.

Mrs. Bethune’s background as a teacher inspired her to open the Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls in Daytona Beach, Florida, in 1904. After merging with the Cookman Institute, the school became Bethune-Cookman College. She not only proved her expertise as an educator, through her work with the college she also developed skills as an organizer and fundraiser. She would later employ these skills, when in 1935 she founded the National Council of Negro Women. Through research, advocacy, and national and community-based services and programs in both the United States and Africa, the National Council of Negro Women continues to this day as a non-profit organization with a mission of representing the national and international concerns of Black women.

In addition to being an educator and an organizer, she was also a political activist, and the first African American woman to be involved in the White House. She assisted four different presidents during her lifetime, but through her close and loyal friendship with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, she had the most significant influence on President Roosevelt’s New Deal Government. She used her access and influence to form a coalition of leaders from black organizations called the Federal Council of Negro Affairs, which came to be known as the “Black Cabinet,” and served as an advisory board to the Roosevelt administration on issues facing black people in America.

In addition to her influence with presidents and others in the government, Bethune also became an employee of the Federal government. The National Youth Administration was a Federal agency created with the support of the Works Progress Administration, which administered provided programs to promote relief and employment for young people. It focused on unemployed citizens between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five who were not in school. Bethune lobbied the organization so aggressively and effectively for minority involvement that she earned a full-time staff position in 1936 as an assistant. Within two years, Bethune was appointed to position of Director of the Division of Negro Affairs, and as such, became the first African-American female division head in the Federal government.

Bethune died on May 18, 1955 at the age of 79.  Approximately twenty years later, on July 10, 1974, the anniversary of her 99th birthday, Bethune became the first black leader and the first woman to have a monument erected on public park land in D.C.  The statue, known as the Mary McLeod Bethune Memorial Statue, was designed by an American sculptor named Robert Berks, who also created hundreds of other bronze sculptures and monuments, including The Albert Einstein Memorial here in D.C.  The statue features an elderly Bethune handing a copy of her legacy to two young black children, as she supports herself with a cane given to her by President Roosevelt.

The memorial honors not only her legacy but her continuing influence through the college and the organization she founded. Bethune-Cookman College currently offers bachelor’s degrees in 26 major areas, and has graduated more than 13,000 students. And the National Council of Negro Women is today comprised of 39 national affiliates and over 240 sections, connecting more than four million women to the organization.

As I sat for a while in the park near the memorial, I watched as people walked their dogs, jogged, played with children, or simply relaxed and enjoyed the warm Spring day.  As I watched them, I wondered if any of them knew anything about the memorial, or who Mary McLeod Bethune was and the influence her life has had.  But now I do, and so do you.

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

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Statue of Crown Princess Märtha

On this bike ride I stopped by the Norwegian Embassy to see the statue of Märtha Sofia Lovisa Dagmar Thyra, more commonly known as Crown Princess Märtha of Norway. The statue is located in front of the main residence on the grounds of the embassy, which is just off Massachusetts Avenue at 2720 34th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Embassy Row neighborhood.

Princess Märtha may be one of the only people in history to be born into a royal family, then cease being a member of that royal family before marrying back in to the same royal family once again. Princess Märtha was the daughter of Prince Carl of Sweden and Princess Ingeborg of Denmark.  She was born on March 28, 1901, in Stockholm, just prior to the dissolution of the union of the United Kingdoms of Norway and Sweden in June of 1905. So for the first four years of her life, she was a Princess of Sweden and Norway.  After the union of the sovereigns ended, she was no longer a princess of Norway, and became Princess Märtha of Sweden.

In March of 1929 following a year-long engagement, she married her cousin, Crown Prince Olav of Norway, in Oslo Cathedral, in the first royal wedding in Norway in 340 years. Thus, she once again became a Princess of Norway. They went on to have three children, Princesses Ragnhild and Astrid of Norway, and Prince Harald V, who eventually ascended to the thrown and is the current King of Norway.

When the Nazis invaded Norway in 1940, Princess Märtha and her children fled to her native Sweden. However, they were not well received by the Swedish people because it was felt that their presence could compromise Sweden’s neutrality. So at the invitation of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the family came to the United States.  However, she was not accompanied by her husband, Crown Prince Olav, who stayed with his father, King Haakon VII, and established a government-in-exile in England.  After brief stays at Roosevelt’s private estate in Hyde Park, New York, and then the White House, the family purchased and moved into an estate in Bethesda, Maryland, just outside of D.C. However, she continued to maintain a close friendship with President Roosevelt after leaving the White House, and the family was often invited back and included in both private and public functions there.

When the war finally ended in 1945, Princess Märtha and the children returned to Norway, where they were reunited with Crown Prince Olav and King Haakon.  She focused on helping Norway and the Norwegian people recover from the war, and spent the rest of her life working with many charities in Norway.

Following a lengthy period of ill-health, Princess Märtha died of cancer in Oslo in 1954.  Her husband would go on to become King Olav V in 1957 until his death in January 1991.  Since her death came approximately three years before her husband ascended to the throne, she never became a queen and will forever remain a princess.  She was the princess of Norway from birth until the age of four, and then again from age 28 until her death. So during her lifetime her two tenures as a princess of Norway together lasted for 30 of her 54 years.

The bronze statue of Princess Märtha was sculpted by Norwegian sculptor Kirsten Kokkin, and was unveiled on September 18, 2005. It was a gift to the citizens of Norway from the Norwegian American Foundation on behalf of the Norwegian-American community in the United States. And if you can’t get to D.C. to see it, you have two other opportunities. Another cast of the statue is located at Palace Park in Oslo, Norway. It was unveiled by her son, King Harald V of Norway, on his 70th birthday in 2007. A third cast of the statue, located in Stockholm, Sweden, was unveiled in October of 2008.

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The Pentagon

The D.C. area is not only home to the largest library in the world, it is also home to the world’s largest office building.  Located just outside of D.C., across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia (MAP), that building is The Pentagon, and it is where I rode on this bike ride.

The Pentagon was dedicated on January 15, 1943, after ground was broken for construction two and a half years earlier, ironically on September 11th.  It is the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense, although it was not initially intended to be.  In the 1930’s,  President Franklin D. Roosevelt commissioned another building for the War and Navy departments, but they quickly outgrew that space. That’s when a new building was commissioned. The old War Department building is now the State Department.

The Pentagon also serves as a symbol of the U.S. military.  “The Pentagon” is often used metonymically (which is today’s vocabulary work of the day, and is defined as “a figure of speech in which a thing or concept is called not by its own name but rather by the name of something associated in meaning with that thing or concept”) to refer to the Department of Defense, rather than the building itself.

Although it remains the world’s largest office building, The Pentagon currently ranks only 12th in the world, and 2nd in the U.S., of all buildings in terms of floor area, with approximately about 6.5 million sq ft, of which 3.7 million sq ft are used as offices. (Dubai International Airport is the largest in the world, and The Palazzo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas is the largest in the U.S.)

Over 23,000 military and civilian employees and non-defense support personnel work in the Pentagon. It has five sides, five floors above ground, two basement levels, and five ring corridors per floor with a total of 17.5 miles of corridors. It is thought of as one of the most efficient office buildings in the world. Despite the 17.5 miles of corridors it takes only seven minutes to walk between any two points in the building. The Pentagon covers 34 acres of land and includes a five-acre central plaza, which is shaped like a pentagon and informally and ironically known as “ground zero,” a nickname originating during the Cold War and based on the presumption that the Soviet Union would target one or more nuclear missiles at this central location in the outbreak of a nuclear war.

The Federal government paid just over $52 million for the land and to construct the massive building.  And under the oversight of General Leslie R. Groves, who also oversaw the Manhattan project,  building of the Pentagon was accomplished in just two years.   After the September 11, 2001 attacks, it cost $501 million dollars just to repair the damage.  And it has had one major renovation since it opened its doors in 1943.  That renovation was completed in 2011, cost $4.5 billion, and took 17 years to finish.

Some other interesting facts and figures about The Pentagon include the following. If you chopped off the Empire State Building at its base and laid it across the top of the Pentagon, it would not reach from end to end. And the Pentagon has twice as much office space as the Empire State building.  The Pentagon has 284 rest rooms, twice the number needed due to being built when racial segregation laws requiring separate facilities still existed. It also has 691 drinking fountains, including the legendary “purple water fountain.” The building was originally designed without elevators, to save on steel, but has 131 stairways and 19 escalators. The Pentagon has 16,250 light fixtures which require 250 new bulbs daily. It has its own post office, dry cleaner, barbershop, nail salon, shoe repair shop, gymnasium, clinic, florist, and even a DMV.  It also has a CVS, a Best Buy and an Adidas store. The Pentagon has plenty of dining options as well, including two Starbucks, three Subways, and a restaurant staff of 230 persons who work in 1 dining room, 2 cafeterias, and 6 indoor and 1 outdoor snack bars. The Pentagon also has: 4,200 clocks in the hallways; 7,754 windows, and; 16 parking lots with approximately 8,770 parking spaces. Over 200,000 telephone calls are made daily through phones connected by 100,000 miles of telephone cable. The building’s Post Office handles about 1.2 million pieces of mail monthly.  And, out of 210 countries in the world, the Pentagon consumes more oil per day than all but 35 countries.

The public can access The Pentagon 9/11 Memorial, which is located on the grounds to the southwest of the building.  However, because it is a military facility, access to the building and other areas can be restricted.  But guided tours are available.  The Pentagon Tour includes a 60-minute presentation and a 1.49 mile walk through the building, and it is well worth the time.

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B Street

During a portion of this two-wheeled outing I rode up and down Constitution Avenue, which is a major east-west street located on the north side of the National Mall, running parallel to Independence Avenue on the Mall’s south side. Constitution Avenue spans the northwest and northeast quadrants of D.C., with its western half extending from the U.S. Capitol Building to the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge. Its eastern half continues through the neighborhoods of Capitol Hill and Kingman Park before it eventually terminates at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.

Constitution Avenue was not always known by its current name, however. And had it not been for a traffic jam, it might still be known today by the name it had under the structured naming convention of the city’s original architectural plan developed by Pierre Charles L’Enfant. That name was B Street.

Back in November of 1921, President Warren G. Harding was travelling to the dedication ceremony for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery when he was caught in a three-hour traffic jam which resulted from the inability of the existing bridges at the time to handle traffic. Resolving to prevent that from happening again, President Harding sought an appropriation to fund the work to design and build a more adequate bridge. Congress subsequently approved his request in June of the following year, which would eventually result in the construction of Arlington Memorial Bridge.

However, B Street was a smaller, narrower street at the time, and extensive widening and reconstruction was needed to accommodate the traffic. Eventually, after years of planning, the vision for B Street had expanded for it to be a ceremonial gateway into the national capitol city from the magnificent new bridge, as well as one of the city’s great parade avenues, similar to Pennsylvania Avenue. And as the nature of the B Street project became apparent, there were calls to rename the street. But nothing is ever easy in D.C., and renaming B Street was no different.

In early 1930, legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives to rename the street L’Enfant Avenue. City officials opposed the name, however, advocating instead for Lincoln or Washington Avenue. Congressman Henry Allen Cooper then introduced legislation to rename the street Constitution Avenue. The proposal met with strong support from city officials, but was rejected by the House of Representatives. The bill was resubmitted the following year. During discussion on the floor of the Senate, it was suggested that the street be named Jefferson Avenue in honor of President Thomas Jefferson. Representative Cooper opined that the name Constitution Avenue in a way paid tribute to our third President as the author of the Constitution, and that a national presidential memorial to President Jefferson should be built.  By the end of the decade, President Franklin D. Roosevelt laid the cornerstone of The Thomas Jefferson Memorial. This time the legislation renaming B Street passed both the House and Senate before being signed into law by President Herbert Hoover in February of 1931, and it has been known as Constitution Avenue ever since.

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“This is How We Live”

Public art is fairly commonplace in many parts of D.C., and as I have been able to see during my bike rides, it has become even more prevalent over the past few years. One of the contributors to this increase is muralist Garin Baker, who has a number of pieces of public art throughout the city. On this ride my destination was one of his murals, one entitled “This is How We Live.” It is located adjacent to a playground, on the side of a building at 239 Elm Street (MAP), near the corner at 3rd street in northwest D.C. And it is not only located in the LeDroit Park neighborhood, it captures the neighborhood as the subject of the mural.

Mr. Baker currently runs a small public art company called Carriage House Arts Studios, which is responsible for countless public and private large scale mural projects across the country, including in New York and Atlanta, as well as D.C. In fact, Mr. Baker recently completed two murals located at the Turkey Thicket Recreation Center in northeast D.C.’s Brookland neighborhood, which I hope to ride to and see one day soon.

The D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, in collaboration with residents from the LeDroit Park community, commissioned Mr. Baker to design, create and install ”This is How We Live,” a photo-realistic mural, which was done in the tradition of the depression-era muralists hired by the Works Progress Administration as part of the President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal Plan, which employed millions of mostly unskilled, unemployed people to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads.

As one of the city’s first suburbs, LeDroit Park was developed and marketed as a “romantic” neighborhood, with numerous flowerbeds and extensive landscaping to include narrow tree-lined streets. The developers even named the streets after the trees that shaded them, differing from the street names used in the rest of the city. Originally a whites-only neighborhood, it was through the efforts by many, especially actions by students from neighboring Howard University, which led to the integration of the area. By the 1940s LeDroit Park became a major focal point for the African-American elite, with many prominent figures residing there. Today, LeDroit Park residents represent a wide variety of ethnic groups, and it’s that diversity that entices new residents to the community.

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The Jefferson Memorial

The Jefferson Memorial

On this day in 1939, the 32nd President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, laid the cornerstone of the memorial to our nation’s 3rd President, Thomas Jefferson. Construction of the memorial had begun the previous December, and would not be completed until 1943. The 19-foot tall bronze statue of Jefferson by the sculptor Rudulph Evans was subsequently added four years later, in 1947. Then, 75 years after the laying of the cornerstone, I rode to the memorial on this lunchtime bike.

As a public official, historian, philosopher, lawyer, businessman and plantation owner, Thomas Jefferson served his country for over five decades. In addition to being our country’s 3rd President, he was also one of America’s founding fathers, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, Vice President of the United States, the first U.S. Secretary of State, member of the Continental Congress, a state legislator and Governor of Virginia, United States Minister to France, and the founder of the University of Virginia.

The Memorial to Thomas Jefferson is a neoclassical building which features circular marble steps, a portico, a circular colonnade of Ionic order columns, and a shallow dome.  It is located in West Potomac Park, on the shore of the Potomac River Tidal Basin (MAP), and is enhanced with the massed planting of Japanese cherry trees, a gift from the people of Japan in 1912. Because many of the well-established cherry trees had to be removed for construction, there was significant opposition to its being built at that location. However, construction continued amid the opposition.

In addition to the domed building which is open to the elements and the prominent statue of Jefferson, the memorial prominently features quotes and exerpts from Jefferson’s writings.  On the panel of the southwest interior wall are excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, which reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men. We…solemnly publish and declare, that these colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states…And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

On the northwest interior wall is an a panel with an excerpt from “A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, 1777”, except for the last sentence, which is taken from a letter of August 28, 1789, to James Madison.  It reads, “Almighty God hath created the mind free…All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens…are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion…No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion. I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively.”

The quotes from the panel of the northeast interior wall are from multiple sources, and reads, “God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than these people are to be free. Establish the law for educating the common people. This it is the business of the state to effect and on a general plan.”

The inscription on the panel of the southeast interior wall is redacted and excerpted from a letter of July 12, 1816, to Samuel Kercheval.  It reads, “I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

The monument is not as prominent in popular culture as other D.C. buildings and monuments, possibly due to its location well removed from the National Mall and its poor approximation to the Washington Metro subway system and accessibility to tourists. The Jefferson Memorial hosts many events and ceremonies each year, including memorial exercises, the National Easter Sunrise Service, and the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival.

On the American Institute of Architects list of America’s favorite architecture, it ranks fourth behind the Empire State Building, the White House, and Washington National Cathedral. The Jefferson Memorial is managed by the National Park Service under its National Mall and Memorial Parks division. The monument is open 24 hours a day but park rangers are there only until 11:30 p.m. However, the monument is only a few hundred yards from the National Park Police D.C. Headquarters in East Potomac Park.

Jefferson01b   JeffersonMemorial03  JeffersonMemorial02   JeffersonCornerstone01

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

William O. Douglas Statue

William O. Douglas Statue

Nominated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, William Orville Douglas was confirmed as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court at the age of 40, becoming one of the youngest justices appointed to the court. His subsequent tenure on the court lasted over 36 years, making his the longest term in the history of the Supreme Court. Douglas also holds a number of other records, including for the most decisions, for making more speeches than any other Justice, and for sidebar productivity.  Douglas also holds the record among Justices for having had the most wives (four) and the most divorces (three) while on the bench.

However, it was not for his judicial career, but rather his environmental legacy, that a statue of Douglas was erected near the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal and Towpath where it intersects with 30th Street (MAP) in the Georgetown neighborhood of northwest D.C. It was this statue that was the destination of this lunchtime bike ride.

Douglas was a self-professed outdoorsman, and wrote prolifically on his love of the outdoors. His love for the environment was so strong that it even carried through to his judicial reasoning. For example, in his dissenting opinion in the 1972 landmark environmental law case entitled Sierra Club verses Morton, Justice Douglas famously argued that “inanimate objects” such as “alpine meadows, rivers, lakes, estuaries, beaches, ridges, groves of trees, swampland, or even air” should have the legal standing to sue in court. In addition to his opinions and dissenting opinions, he also wrote some thirty books.

While serving as a Supreme Court Justice, Douglas also served on the Board of Directors of the Sierra Club from 1960 to 1962. Douglas’ other environmental activities and credentials include hiking the entire 2,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, helping to launch the nation’s first law review dedicated solely to environmental issues, and swaying his fellow justices on the court to preserve the Red River Gorge in eastern Kentucky when a proposal to build a dam and flood the gorge reached the court. In fact, based on Douglas’ activism in advocating for the preservation and protection of natural areas and resources across the country, he was given the nickname “Wild Bill.”

But perhaps his best known contribution as an environmentalist was his role in helping to save the C&O Canal Towpath, and inspiring its subsequent designation as a National Park. He was at his D.C. home one morning in 1954 when he read a Washington Post editorial backing a plan to build a highway over or along the historic canal. Incensed, Douglas issued a challenge to the Post editorial writers to walk with him the entire length of the canal, and then decide whether it should be preserved. His efforts convinced the editorial board to change its stance, and helped save the canal.

After that, in the 1960s and early 1970s, Douglas and his wife Cathleen “Cathy” Douglas, whom he married when she was 22 and he was 67, would go for hikes along the canal every Sunday morning. Douglas was also known to take solitary walks on the towpath “when he wanted to think deeply about a case” before the court. Today, five million people a year visit the canal, making it the ninth most popular park in the U.S.