Posts Tagged ‘President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’

The Japanese Embassy

The Japanese Embassy

Today is the 73rd anniversary of the United States’ declaration of war against the Empire of Japan, which occurred as a direct result of the previous day’s attack conducted by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. In recognition of this anniversary, on this lunchtime bike ride Julius and I rode to the Embassy of Japan, located at 2520 Massachusetts Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Embassy Row neighborhood.

Beginning at 7:48 a.m. Hawaiian Time on December 7, 1941, 353 Japanese fighter planes, bombers, and torpedo planes in two waves, launched from six aircraft carriers, launched a surprise strike against the American naval base at Pearl Harbor near Honolulu, Hawaii, which was the headquarters of the United States Pacific Fleet. The attack was intended as a preventive action in order to keep the U.S. Pacific Fleet from interfering with military actions the Empire of Japan was planning in Southeast Asia against overseas territories of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the United States.

The damage incurred by the United States as a result of the attack was extensive, including 2,403 Americans killed and 1,178 others who were wounded.  Additionally, all eight U.S. Navy battleships were damaged, with four being sunk.  All but one, the USS Arizona, were later raised, and six of the eight battleships were returned to service and went on to fight in the war. The Japanese also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, one minelayer, and 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed.

Described the following day by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in an address to a joint session of Congress as “a date which will live in infamy,” the result of the attack was the exact opposite of what had been intended. Instead of intimidating the United States, the attack led to President Roosevelt asking Congress the very next day to declare war on Japan. Congress approved his declaration with just one dissenting vote, leading to the United States’ entry into both the Pacific and European theaters of World War II. Three days later, Japanese allies Germany and Italy declared war on the United States, and again Congress reciprocated. More than two years after the conflict had commenced, the United States had finally joined World War II.

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 Robert A. Taft Memorial and Carillon

The Robert A. Taft Memorial and Carillon

Robert Alphonso Taft was a conservative American politician and statesman, and a member of one of America’s most prominent political families of his time. He served as a U.S. Senator from the state of Ohio from 1939 until his death in 1953. At the time of his death Taft was the Senate Majority Leader. He also had presidential aspirations, seeking out the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 1940, 1948, and 1952, but remained unsuccessful, unlike his father, William Howard Taft, who was the 27th President of the U.S.

One of the most well-known conservatives of his time, Taft earned the nickname of “Mr. Republican” given to him by his peers. Taft is often known remembered by historians as one of the most powerful Senators of the twentieth century, and the U.S. Senate’s primary opponent of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “New Deal” domestic policies. Taft is also known as a major advocate of a foreign policy of non-interventionism, and for successfully leading the conservative coalition’s effort to curb the expanding power of labor unions in America after Roosevelt’s death.

Just a few years after his death, a committee led by Senator John F. Kennedy selected Taft as one of five of the greatest U.S. Senators in history. Kennedy would also go on to profile him in his book “Profiles in Courage,” describing him as a politician who was able to demonstrate personal strength and conscientious action in the pursuit of what he felt was the right path, in spite of the fact that his views were sometimes contrary to those of the majority of Americans.

On this bike ride, I went to visit the D.C. memorial to honor the man known as “Mr. Republican,” the Robert A. Taft Memorial and Carillon. Located north of the Capitol on Constitution Avenue between New Jersey Avenue and First Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, the memorial consists of a marble tower encircled by jets of water that flow into a basin that rings the base, and a 10-foot bronze statue of Senator Taft. The shaft of the tower measures 100 feet high, 11 feet deep, and 32 feet wide, and was designed by architect Douglas W. Orr. The statue was sculpted by Wheeler Williams.

An inscription on the memorial above the statue reads, “This Memorial to Robert A. Taft, presented by the people to the Congress of the United States, stands as a tribute to the honesty, indomitable courage, and high principles of free government symbolized by his life.” An additional engraving on the side of the memorial reads, “If we wish to make democracy permanent in this country, let us abide by the fundamental principles laid down in the Constitution. Let us see that the state is the servant of its people, and that the people are not the servants of the state.”

The carillon contains twenty-seven bells in the upper part of the tower, which were cast in the Paccard Foundry in France and are considered among the finest quality in the world. The largest of the bells, called the bourdon bell, weighs 7 tons. The bells are well matched and produce rich, resonant tones which can be heard throughout Capitol Hill and much of downtown D.C. The large central bell rings out on the hour, while the smaller fixed bells chime on the quarter-hour. By resolution of Congress, the carillon bells together play “The Star-Spangled Banner” at 2 p.m. on the Fourth of July.

The Robert A. Taft Memorial and Carillon is an unusual memorial, with a prominent location and grand scale that exceeds that for many Presidential memorials in D.C. It is truly a testament to the popularity of and respect for the man known during his political career as Mr. Republican.

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Church of the Epiphany

Church of the Epiphany

Dating back to January of 1842 when an organizational meeting was held, and when the first service was conducted later that same month, the Church of the Epiphany has been steeped in history.  Construction of the church’s Gothic Revival building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, began with the laying of the cornerstone the follow year, and was completed in 1844, the same year parish status was achieved.  One of the only remaining pre-Civil War churches in the city, people have been worshipping and praying there every day for over a century and a half.  And the building has stayed much the same over those years, although the surrounding downtown neighborhood has developed considerably from the quiet, tree shaded, and residential neighborhood it was when the church began.  Today, the church’s slim shape and stone façade stand out amongst the towering, modern downtown office buildings which surround it.

Throughout its history, prominent people have always attended and been a part of the Church of the Epiphany.  Before the Civil War, a number of prominent politicians, including future Confederate President Jefferson Davis, were members of the congregation.  After the war broke out, President Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edward Stanton began attending, along with Union service members.   And in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln attended a funeral for Union Army General Frederick Lander at Epiphany.  But the Church of the Epiphany has always had ties to the common man as well.  Between July and December of1862, the building was a temporary hospital, with wooden boards laid across the tops of pews to create beds for the wounded.

During the time since the Civil War, other presidents have come to Epiphany Church as well.  A memorial services was held for slain President William McKinley in 1901, and since 1925, the church has rung its bells in honor of each newly inaugurated president.  President Franklin Delano Roosevelt also attended a service at Epiphany, at Christmas in 1942.

On today’s bike ride, I stopped by the historic Episcopal church, which is located at 1317 G Street in northwest D.C. (MAP), just two blocks from the White House.  And I was please to discover that the church is as relevant today as it has been throughout its history.  Today, the Church of the Epiphany remains an active, urban church that continues to adapt to the ever changing needs of the place where it was planted, with its small parish of about 350 diverse worshipers focused largely on serving, helping and supporting the surrounding homeless community.

Through its brightly colored and welcoming doors, the church houses “The Welcome Table” ministry to feed the hungry.  It also hosts weekly Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and has a licensed addiction counselor and an outreach ministry to assist downtown poor in obtaining information about housing, medical aid, employment and treatment facilities.  The church also operates the Epiphany Mission Center, where meetings and retreats are held.  But the church also ventures out from the building it calls home, with a “Street Church’ ministry that gathers at Franklin Square Park for worship and lunch with around 40-60 downtown poor and visitors every Tuesday.  Through these and other programs, the Church of the Epiphany ensures that it is not just part of history, but will continue to make history as well.

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Site of World's First Air Mail Service

Site of World’s First Air Mail Service

A short bike ride from downtown D.C., located just off the Rock Creek Park Trail that parallels the water along the north bank of the Potomac River in West Potomac Park, and near Ohio and West Basin Drives (MAP) in Southwest D.C., I discovered a stone with a brass plaque marker.  After reading the plaque, I learned that the marker was placed there by The Aero Club of Washington, commemorating the first air mail flight to be operated as a continuously scheduled public service.  The air mail service planes used the nearby field just south of The Washington Monument near the National Mall to take off and land.

Following 52 experimental flights by the Post Office Department in 1911 and 1912, the first extended test of airmail service began on May 15, 1918, when the U.S. Army and the Post Office Department together began operating a line using U.S Army training plains, known as “Jenny” biplanes.  The planes were flown by Army pilots operating on a route between the old Washington Polo Grounds near the marker, and Belmont Park in New York City, with an intermediate stop at Bustleton Field in Philadelphia.  Included in those who were on hand for the departure of the first flight were President Woodrow Wilson, U.S. Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson, and Assistant Secretary of the Navy and future president, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

An Army lieutenant named George L. Boyle was selected to pilot the aircraft on the first flight.  Unfortunately, that flight turned out to be a somewhat less than successful initial venture, and perhaps an omen of the Postal Service’s future level of quality and service.  Boyle became disoriented almost immediately after take off, and started flying in the wrong direction.  Upon realizing that he was lost, Boyle attempted to find out where he was by making an unscheduled landing in nearby Waldorf, Maryland.  However, he broke the prop on his airplane when he made a hard landing, and the mail he was carrying had to be trucked back to D.C.   The mail was flown to Philadelphia and New York the next day but, of course, arrived late.

The plaque on the marker does not make mention of this ignominious beginning.  It reads:  “Air Mail. The world’s first airplane mail to be operated as a continuously scheduled public service started from this field May 15, 1918.  The route connected Washington, Philadelphia and New York, CurtisJN 4-H airplanes with a capacity of 150 pounds of mail flew the 230 miles in above three hours.  The service was inaugurated by the Post Office Department in cooperation with the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps of the U.S. Army.  On August 12, 1918, the service was taken over in its entirety by the Post Office Department.  This marker was erected by The Aero Club of Washington on the fortieth anniversary.  May 15, 1958.”

Less than twenty years later, in October of 1975, Air Mail as a separate class of service was effectively ended within the U.S. when all domestic intercity First Class mail began to be transported by air at the normal First Class rate, and was formally eliminated by the successor to the Post Office Department, the United States Postal Service.

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The Original FDR Memorial

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial that is spread out over seven and a half acres on the southern side of The Tidal Basin may be the largest Presidential memorial in D.C. to honor our nation’s 32nd President, but it is not the only one.  It was also not the first. The original FDR Memorial, which relatively few people know about, is located in front of the National Archives building near the corner of 9th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP) in downtown D.C.

When asked in September of 1941 about how he would like to be memorialized, President Roosevelt told his friend, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, “If any memorial is erected to me, I know exactly what I should like it to be.  I should like it to consist of a block about the size of this (putting his hand on his desk) and placed in the center of that green plot in front of the Archives Building. I don’t care what it is made of, whether limestone or granite or whatnot, but I want it plain without any ornamentation, with the simple carving, ‘In Memory of ____’.”

However, his personal wishes notwithstanding, there was a lengthy argument following his death about the kind of memorial that the Federal government should create for FDR.  Congress authorized the establishment of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Commission on August 11, 1955, and on September 1, 1959, it enacted legislation authorizing the Commission to announce a design competition.

But getting any sort of memorial to FDR erected in D.C. was not a simple task.  Millions of Americans intensely disliked FDR, and many still do, mostly because of the liberal New Deal programs he initiated.  There was dissonance about the design selected, and even FDR’s family expressed concerns about the divisiveness and criticism that might accompany the establishment of a memorial at that time.  In the end, Congress held the FDR memorial issue in abeyance, at least for a few decades.

Ignoring FDR’s wishes for a simple memorial didn’t sit well with many of his friends and associates though.  So on April 12, 1965, the twentieth anniversary of his death, a small group of associates of the President used private funds to erect and dedicate the small memorial to FDR, which was designed in accordance with his specific wishes, and placed where he had requested.  The engraved words on the memorial simply say “In Memory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt 1882 1945.”

It was not until thirty years later, in contradiction to Roosevelt’s wishes, that the larger and more well-known FDR Memorial was dedicated.  Of the two memorials, however, it is pretty clear that if Roosevelt could choose, he  would opt for the original one.

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