Posts Tagged ‘President John F. Kennedy’

MillionMask2019

The Million Mask March and Guy Fawkes

The hacktivist group Anonymous announced they would be gathering at The Washington Monument at 9:00am this morning to begin a protest in Downtown D.C. It’s an annual protest that is in its 7th year here in D.C. (23rd year worldwide), and is part of an annual global protest associated with Anonymous. The protest has come to be known as the Million Mask March, or “Operation Vendetta,” and takes place each year on Guy Fawkes Day, the 5th of November. So I decided to learn more about the group and protest, and then to go and observe the protest.

The motives for each year’s march varies, but are usually broad in scope and include some consistent themes and beliefs that are prevalent in the Anonymous movement. They include: corruption in politics and governments; banks, corporations, and big pharma companies; government surveillance; demilitarization; capitalist greed; climate change; internet censorship; police violence; the erosion of civil liberties; self-governance, and; the treatment of vulnerable groups like migrants, disabled people, and those living in poverty.

Anonymous also ascribes to what many people would call “conspiracy theories.” According to the web site for the Million Mask March the group contends that: Jackie Kennedy, and not Lee Harvey Oswald, shot John F. Kennedy; Julian Assange was an orphan raised in a CIA child sex slave camp and was framed in the 9/11 attacks, and; Jeffrey Epstein, the American financier and convicted sex offender who was recently reported to have committed suicide while in Federal custody is, in fact, not dead but living on a ranch under the protection of the Federal government.

Anonymous associates itself with Guy Fawkes, and those attending protests usually wear Guy Fawkes masks. And they schedule their main protest on Guy Fawkes Day (which is also known as Bonfire Night and Firework Night). Guy Fawkes Day is an annual commemoration observed primarily in the United Kingdom. Its history began with the events of November 5, 1605, when a man named Guy Fawkes, a participant in what became known as the Gunpowder Plot, was arrested while guarding explosives the plotters had placed beneath the House of Lords. Celebrating the fact that King James the First had survived the attempt on his life, people lit bonfires around London; and months later, the introduction of the Observance of the 5th of November Act enforced an annual public day of thanksgiving for the plot’s failure.

Fawkes was sentenced to be executed for his part in trying to assassinate the king. But shortly before the sentence was scheduled to be carried out, Fawkes fell from the scaffold where he was to be hanged and broke his neck, thus avoiding the agony of being hanged, drawn and quartered.

So after learning about the planned protest and the group, I took an early break from work today and went down to The Washington Monument at 9:00am to observe the Million Mask March. I got there at about 8:45am, but didn’t see anyone wearing a Fawkes mask, or that looked like they were there for a protest. But I was early. So I waited. It wasn’t particularly crowded at the monument. In fact there were no more than a couple of dozen tourist coming and going. I waited for over an hour but no protesters showed up. I eventually gave up and went back to work. I checked a site that was supposed to be live streaming the march. But I got a message that read, “404 – Page Not Found.” And later, after the march was scheduled to have concluded, I checked the Facebook page that was set up for the march. Despite multiple posts made today, there were no posts or photos of the march.

So, I find it ironically interesting that the group aligns itself Guy Fawkes, a man and a day famous for failure. If the purpose of the march was to influence people and communicate with the public, today’s march was as much a failure as Fawkes and The Gunpowder Plot.

The Assassination Site of President Garfield

President James A. Garfield was the 20th president of the United States, serving from March 4, 1881, until his death by assassination six and a half months later while waiting to catch a train at the Baltimore and Potomac rail station.  The site where it happened s just a few hundred yards from the 20th President’s official Presidential Memorial in an area of the city that has gone through many changes since the train station’s building and tracks were demolished in 1908 during a redesign of the National Mall.  The National Gallery of Art’s West Building is now located there (MAP).  But one thing stayed the same at the site for the first 137 years after President Garfield’s assassination.  That was the absence of a plaque or historical marker to indicate what happened there on July 2, 1881.  But that recently changed.  So on this bike ride, I went there to see the new historical marker.

When President Garfield was elected in 1880, a man named Charles Julius Guiteau falsely believed he had played a major role in his victory.  He also thought he should be rewarded with a consulship for his efforts in electing the new President.  So he submitted applications to serve in Paris or Vienna, despite the fact he spoke no French or any other  foreign language.  But when the Garfield administration rejected his applications, he decided it was because he was part of the Stalwart faction of the Republican Party, and President Garfield was affiliated with the opposing Half-Breed faction of the party.  Guiteau was so offended at being rejected for a consular position that he decided President Garfield had to die so that Vice President Chester A. Arthur, who was a fellow Stalwart, would succeed him.  He thought this would not only end the war within the Republican Party, but would lead to rewards for fellow Stalwarts, including himself.

As difficult as it is to imagine in today’s political world, the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln was seen as a fluke due to the Civil War, and Garfield, like most people, saw no reason why the president should be guarded.  In fact, the President’s plans and schedule were often printed in the newspapers.  Knowing his schedule and where he would be, Guiteau followed Garfield several times.  But each time his plans to kill the President were frustrated, or he lost his nerve.  Then in the summer of 1881, when the President had been in office for only four months, Garfield decided to take a train trip to New England to escape the swampy summer heat of D.C.  Right after he arrived at the Baltimore and Potomac rail station, Guiteau emerged from where he had been hiding by the ladies’ waiting room and walked up to Garfield and shot him twice, once in the back and once in the arm, with an ivory-handled pistol, a gun he thought would look good in a museum.  Guiteau was quickly apprehended, and as he was led away, he stated, “I did it. I will go to jail for it. I am a Stalwart and Arthur will be President.”

The wounded President was taken upstairs to a private office in the train station, where several doctors examined him.  There they probed the wound with unwashed fingers, another thing that is difficult to imagine today.  At Garfield’s request, he was then taken back to The White House.  The physician who took charge at the train station and then at the White House was Willard Bliss, an old friend of the President’s.  About a dozen physicians, led by Dr. Bliss, were soon probing the wound, again with unsterilized fingers and instruments.

Although in considerable pain despite being given morphine, the President did not lose his sense of humor.  He asked Dr. Bliss to tell him his chances, which Bliss put at one in a hundred. The President then replied, “Well, Doctor, we’ll take that chance.”  In addition to his treatment, Garfield was also being given oatmeal porridge and milk from a cow on the White House lawn for nourishment.  However, he hated oatmeal porridge.  So when he was told that Indian chief Sitting Bull, a prisoner of the U.S. Army, was starving, Garfield initially said, “Let him starve,” but then quickly changed his mind and said, “Oh, no, send him my oatmeal.”

During the President’s treatment, Alexander Graham Bell attempted to locate the bullet with a primitive metal detector.  (The use of X-rays, which likely would have helped the President’s physicians save his life, would not be invented for another fourteen years.)  However, he was unsuccessful.  But they were able to help keep Garfield relatively comfortable in the stifling heat that he had been trying to escape with one of the first successful air conditioning units, which reduced the temperature in the sickroom by 20 degrees.

During the weeks of intensive care after being shot, Garfield would alternately seem to get better and then take turns for the worse.  He developed an abscess around the wound, which doctors probed but most likely only made worse.  He also developed infections that cause him to have a fever of 104 degrees, and he lost a considerable amount of weight.  Eventually, Dr. Bliss agreed to move him to Elberon, part of Long Branch, New Jersey, where his wife had been recovering from an illness at the time her husband was shot.

There, Garfield could see the ocean as officials and reporters maintained what became a death watch. Garfield eventually succumbed to a combination of his injury and his treatment.  On September 18, Garfield asked Almon Ferdinand Rockwell, a friend and business associate who was at his bedside, if he would have a place in history. Rockwell assured Garfield he would, but told him that he still had much work to do.  The President responded, “No, my work is done.”  He died later that night.

According to many medical experts and historians, Garfield most likely would have survived his wounds had Dr. Bliss and the other doctors attending to him had the benefit of modern medical research, knowledge, techniques, and equipment.  In fact, much like President Ronald Reagan after the assassination attempt at The Washington Hilton here in D.C., Garfield would probably also have survived being shot.  Instead, the treatment he received at least contributed, and most likely caused his death.  It is thought that starvation also played a role in President Garfield’s death.

Four presidents have been assassinated while in office.  And two of them occurred here in D.C.  President Lincoln was killed at Ford’s Theater in 1865, and just 16 years later President Garfield was shot by Guiteau less than a thousand yards away from where President Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Boothe.  There were already official markers for President Lincoln at The Petersen House in D.C. where he died, President William McKinley in Buffalo, New York, and President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas.  Now all four sites have been properly recognized.  I’ve now been to the two sites here in D.C.  The other two, however, are a little too far away for a lunchtime bike ride.

   

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

Today is Flag Day, and in recognition of that designation I took some of the photos I’ve taken during my lunchtime bike rides, 76 of them, in fact, and set them to music to make the above slideshow.

In the United States, Flag Day is celebrated on June 14. It commemorates the adoption of the flag of the United States, which happened on June 14, 1777, by resolution of the Second Continental Congress.  But the first Flag Day was not celebrated for another 108 years. until in 1885 a 19-year-old school teacher in Fredonia, Wisconsin, named Bernard J. Cigrand placed a 38-inch star flag in a bottle on his desk to observe the “flag birthday,” and gave his students an assignment to write essays about the flag and its significance.  After that, Cigrand enthusiastically advocated for several years in numerous magazines and newspaper articles and public addresses the observance of June 14 as “Flag Birthday”, or “Flag Day”.  For his efforts, Cigrand generally is credited with being the “Father of Flag Day.”

It took another 31 years, until 1916, for President Woodrow Wilson to issue a proclamation that officially established June 14 as Flag Day.  Finally, in August 1946, National Flag Day was established by an Act of Congress.  Flag Day is still not an official Federal holiday, however.  Neither is it a state holiday outside of Pennsylvania and New York. Furthermore, New York’s official observance of Flag Day isn’t June 14, but rather the second Sunday in June.

Since its inception there have been 27 official versions what many fondly call the “Stars and Stripes” , starting with the first one in 1777 which displayed 13 stripes and 13 stars (for the 13 original colonies). When Kentucky and Vermont joined the union, the flag took on two more stars, so that from 1795 to 1818, 15 stripes and 15 stars graced the flag. It was this version of the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to compose “The Star-Spangled Banner,” during the battle at Fort McHenry.  For a while, the U.S. added stripes and stars to the flag when welcoming new states. At one point, the flag has 15 stripes and 15 stars. But n 1818, as the country continued to add new states, lawmakers, anticipating a crowded field of stripes, decided to honor each new state with a star, and leave the stripes at 13. Today the flag has 50 stars for the 50 states, and the designated 13 stripes.

There are Federal regulations governing the handling and display of the flag, referred to as the U.S. Flag Code, including restrictions on using the flag’s likeness for advertising, or printing it on anything intended “for temporary use or discard,” like cocktail napkins or paper plates. Under the Flag Protection Act of 1989, there are also Federal laws that call for criminal penalties for certain forms of flag desecration, although the Supreme Court found this act to be unconstitutional under the First Amendment in 1990.

Not surprisingly, there are a lot of surprising and interesting facts surrounding the Stars and Stripes. And many of those facts are not found in history books. The following are some examples.

  • A 17-year old student named Robert G. Heft designed the flag as it currently appears today as part of a project for his history class.  He received a grade of B- for the project. He later submitted it to Congress for consideration, and in August of 1959 President Dwight D. Eisenhower chose Heft’s design over 1,500 other applicants. His teacher subsequently changed his grade to an A.
  • According to the U.S. Department of State, the names of the flag’s official colors are “old glory red,” “white,” and “old glory blue.” “White signifies purity and innocence, Red, hardiness and valor, and Blue, the color of the Chief, signifies vigilance, perseverance & justice.”
  • Old Glory was actually the nickname of a specific U.S. Flag, namely, the one owned by sea captain William Driver. He was previously given the flag by the women in his hometown of Salem, Massachusetts, but he only named it Old Glory upon seeing it flying on his ship’s mast in 1831. The name later went on to become synonymous with any American flag.
  • In July 1969, Neil Armstrong placed the first American flag on the moon as part of the Apollo 11 mission, the first manned landing. Five more Apollo moon landings—from missions 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17—resulted in five more flags being planted on the lunar surface. Despite the harsh temperatures and conditions of the moon’s atmosphere, five of the six flags that were planted during the Apollo missions are still standing. According to Buzz Aldrin, the one that fell was blown over by the exhaust from Apollo 11 during its liftoff from the moon’s surface.
  • Richard Williams, the animation director for the movie entitled “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” said that he modeled the title character’s colors after the American flag. Roger Rabbit dons red overalls, has white fur, and wears a blue tie. “It looked like an American flag — subliminally speaking — so everybody liked it,” stated Williams.
  • Karen Burke of Walmart’s Corporate Communications revealed that Walmart stores sold around 115,000 American flags on September 11, 2001, as compared to 6,400 flags on the same date in 2000. In the year following 9/11 (September 11, 2001, through August 19, 2011), they sold 7.8 million American flags as compared to 2.5 million the year before.
  • During the opening sequence, at about 22 seconds in, of first-season episodes of “Gilligan’s Island,” the U.S. Flag can be seen flying at half-staff off in the distance. According to a 1994 audio book co-authored by Russell Johnson, who played the Professor, this is because the show’s pilot episode finished filming on November 22, 1963 — the same day President Kennedy was assassinated.
  • Lastly and most assuredly bigly, our current President, Donald Trump, was born on Flag Day in 1946.

The 37th Annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service

Today is Peace Officers Memorial DayThe idea of a Peace Officers Memorial Day came into effect when Congress asked the president to designate May 15 as a day “to pay tribute to the law enforcement officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country and to voice our appreciation for all those who currently serve on the front lines of the battle against crime.”  President John F. Kennedy signed the bill into law on October 1, 1961.   

In observance of this event, this afternoon I attended the National Peace Officers Memorial Service on the west lawn of the United States Capitol Building.  The service, sponsored by the Grand Lodge Fraternal Order of Police and the Grand Lodge Fraternal Order of Police Auxiliary, was the 37th annual national service to honor and remember those law enforcement officers who made the ultimate sacrifice during the previous year, as well as the family members, friends and fellow officers they left behind.  Overall, 129 officers suffered line of duty deaths in 2017.  It is those heroes who were honored during today’s service, and whose names will be added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.

The names of an additional 231 officers who died in previous years but whose stories of sacrifice had been lost to history until now will also be added to the memorial this year.  The names of all 360 fallen officers nationwide were formally dedicated during this year’s Annual Candlelight Vigil that was held this past Sunday evening on the National Mall.

Thankfully, there were no line of duty deaths here in D.C. during 2017.  But in the surrounding area, there were two deaths in Maryland:  Sean Matthew Suiter of the Baltimore City Police Department (End of Watch 11/16/2017), and; Sander Benjamin Cohen, of the Maryland Office of the State Fire Marshal (E.O.W. 12/08/2017).  And in Virginia, we lost four heroes:  Curtis Allen Bartlett, of the Carroll County Sherriff’s Office (E.O.W. 3/09/20170); Michael Timothy Walter, of the Virginia State Police (E.O.W. 5/27/2017), and; the two Virginia State Police troopers who were killed in a helicopter crash while monitoring the civil unrest that was occurring in Charlottesville, Virginia, during last summer’s “Unite the Right” white nationalist rally: Berke Morgan Matthew Bates and Henry John Cullen III (E.O.W. 8/12/2017).

 

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

In addition too seeing and hearing the remarks offered by President Trump and Vice-President Pence, one of the highlights of the service for me was a performance by country music artists Branch and Dean of their song “The Dash.”

Prayer for Policemen

“O Almighty God, Whose great power and eternal Wisdom embraces the universe, Watch over all policemen and Law enforcement officers everywhere.  Protect them from harm In the performance of their duty To stop crime, robbery, Riots and violence.  We pray, help them keep our streets And homes safe, day and night.  We commend them to your loving care Because their duty is dangerous.  Grant them strength and courage In their daily assignments. Dear God, protect these brave men and women.  Grant them your almighty protection, Unite them safely with their families after Duty has ended.  Please God, grant us this wish.”

Matthew 5.9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

A Secret Entrance to the White House

Anyone who has been near The White House when the president or visiting dignitaries were arriving or departing have seen the entrances to the White House in use.  Equipped with security gates, ram-proof physical barriers, armed personnel, electronic surveillance equipment, and other unseen security measures, the entrances are obvious.  But there is another entrance to the White House that few people know about.

Located two blocks away from the White House in the 1500 block of H Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood, the secret entrance to the White House looks like almost any other alley in the city.  Thousands and thousands of pedestrians and vehicles pass by it every day, and I doubt any of them know what is hiding in plain site right in front of them.   About the only thing that distinguishes it from any other alley is a small, unobtrusive booth built into the wall of the building on the right side of alley.  I imagine most people who see it assume the booth is for an attendant collecting money for a public parking lot at the other end of the alley.  But it is actually a bullet-proof enclosure manned by Secret Service agents.

The alley leads south past the back of the Federal Claims Courthouse Building, before ending in an unassuming doorway at the rear of Freedman’s Bank, formerly known as the Treasury Department annex, on Pennsylvania Avenue.   From there, according to archival newspaper reports from before security concerns prevented the publishing of such information, the passageway to the White House passes through two subterranean tunnels.

The first tunnel was constructed in 1919 when the Treasury Department Annex was built, presumably to protect the Treasury and its employees from being robbed of the vast sums of cash with which they worked.  The second tunnel was contracted for President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II, and lead from the East Wing of the White House to the first Presidential bomb shelter.  The tunnel and bomb shelter were to be a secret throughout the war, but was disclosed to the public in December of 1941 when Congressman Clare E. Hoffman complained about its expense in an open debate in the House of Representatives.

In later years, the tunnel has been used by persons who needed to exit or depart the White House without public or press attention. President Richard Nixon’s daughter, Tricia Nixon, and her husband, Edward F. Cox, departed the White House via the tunnel after their 1972 Rose Garden wedding.  President Lyndon Johnson also used the tunnel to avoid Vietnam War protesters when departing the White House.  Other uses of the tunnel have either been discredited or, like the stories of Marilyn Monroe using a tunnel to sneak into the White House as part of an affair with President John F. Kennedy, remain unproven.

Once the alley and tunnels were connected to provide for vehicular access to the White House, the passageway was modified to end in the parking garage in the White House basement.  And despite the general public’s lack of knowledge of the access way, or perhaps because of it, it remains in use to this day.

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

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The Octagon House

I may sound like I’m getting old by what I’m about to write, but Halloween isn’t what it used to be when I was growing up.  Some of the most popular costumes in recent years have been a twerking former Disney child star, a female prison inmate in an orange jumpsuit, and a fired high school chemistry teacher turned homicidal meth dealer.  I miss the more generic and traditional costumes, like ghosts.  So as I celebrated Halloween on today’s bike ride, I went on a ghost hunt. There are a number of reportedly haunted locations throughout D.C., and today I rode by a few of those places where ghosts and spirits are reported to have been encountered.

The first stop on my self-guided bike tour of D.C.’s haunted locations was The Octagon House, which is reported to be the most haunted residence in the city. It was built in 1801 by Colonel John Tayloe, III, and some members of the Tayloe family are reported to still be residing there today.  Two of Colonel Tayloe’s daughters are said to haunt their former home. The first allegedly died just before the War of 1812.  Colonel Tayloe and his daughter quarreled on the second floor landing over the girl’s relationship with a British officer stationed in the city.  And when the daughter turned in anger to go down the stairs, she “fell” down the stairs.  Or possibly over the railing.  Stories differ.  Either way, she died.  Her apparition has allegedly been seen crumpled at the bottom of the steps, or on the stairs near the second floor landing, and sometimes exhibits itself as the light of a candle moving up the staircase.

The death of the other Tayloe daughter, stories claim, occurred in 1817 or shortly thereafter.   She had eloped with a young man, thus incurring her father’s wrath.  When she returned home to reconcile with her father, they argued on the third-floor landing.  This daughter, too, “fell” to her death.  Her spirit is alleged to haunt the third floor landing and stairs between the second and third floors.

After the burning of The White House in the War of 1812, President James and Dolley Madison briefly lived at The Octagon House as well. Dolley Madison’s spirit is said to have been seen near the fireplace in the main ballroom as well as heading through a closed door to the garden.  Her ghost’s presence is reported to be accompanied by the smell of lilacs, which was her favorite flower.

Other spirits are also said to remain at The Octagon House as well. A slave girl in the house was allegedly killed by being thrown from the third floor landing to the first floor below by a British soldier during the War of 1812.  During the years since eyewitnesses have reported hearing her scream. The specter of a British soldier in a War of 1812 dress uniform was seen by a caretaker named James Cypress in the 1950s.  Perhaps it was the soldier who killed the slave girl.

A gambler shot to death in the home’s third-floor bedroom in the late 19th century has sometimes been seen still in the bed where he died. And ghostly footmen have been seen at the front door waiting to receive guests. Various witnesses have also reported hearing assorted moans, screams, and footsteps in The Octagon House.

The next stop on my ghost ride was the Dolly Madison House, also referred to as the Cutts-Madison House, located at 1520 H Street (MAP), near the northwest corner of Lafayette Square Park.  One of the most reported spirits in all of D.C. is that of former First Lady Dolley Madison. In addition to being seen at The Octagon House, her ghost has been encountered at additional locations, including the White House Rose Garden, and at her home on Lafayette Square. It is in this home that Dolley Madison spent her last years, and where she died in 1849. Since the mid-19th century, it is on the porch sitting in a rocking chair that her ghost has most often been encountered.

I then made a stop at the nearby statue of President Andrew Jackson, located in middle of Lafayette Square Park (MAP) across the street from the White House.  There are a variety of haunted accounts involving the boisterous President Jackson within the nearby White House. Most of the stories center around the canopy bed in the Rose bedroom on the second floor.  Mary Todd Lincoln and Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands are but a couple of the notable witnesses to President Jackson’s apparition.

My next stop on this haunted bike ride was the location where Congressman Daniel Sickles’ House used to be.  Located at 717 Madison Place (MAP), it is now the downtown site of the U.S. Court of Claims.

In 1859, Sickles shot and killed Philip Barton Key, who at that time was the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, and was the son of Francis Scott Key, who wrote the national anthem.  After learning of Key’s affair with his wife, Teresa, who was only 15 years old when she married the 33-year old Sickles, Sickles approached Teresa’s lover in front of his home and allegedly said, “Key, you scoundrel, you have dishonored my house. You must die.” He then shot Key. As he lay dying, Key gazed at the window where Teresa would signal him when the coast was clear for their trists. A jury acquitted Sickles after a sensational trial that featured the first use of the temporary insanity defense in U.S. legal history. Since that time Key’s visage has been reported to occasionally appear in the location where Sickles shot him.

I then proceeded to the Walsh Mansion, which currently serves as the Indonesian Embassy and is located at 2020 Massachusetts Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Embassy Row neighborhood.  The most expensive residence in the city at the time it was completed in 1903, the mansion was built by Thomas J. Walsh, a famous gold miner and industrialist. He was also known for giving the famed Hope Diamond to his daughter Evalyn Walsh McLean as a wedding present. However, along with the diamond came its curse.  According to the legend, a curse befell the large, blue diamond when it was stolen from an idol in India – a curse that foretold bad luck and death not only for the owner of the diamond but for all who touched it. Anyway, Evalyn continued to live in the house after her father’s passing until her death in 1947. However, by the time she died she had lost the family fortune and more, and to cover her significant debts, the Walsh Mansion was sold to the government of Indonesia. According to embassy staff, however, Evalyn never vacated the home. Rather, her spirit has been seen several times gliding down the mansion’s grand central staircase.

The Mary Surratt Boarding House was the next destination on my haunted tour of D.C.  Located at 604 H Street (MAP) in the heart of the city’s Chinatown neighborhood, the three-story Federal-style townhouse has been substantially renovated through the years.  But in the mid-1800’s it was a boarding house owned by Mary Surratt, who was convicted and hanged as one of the conspirators in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. The building currently houses a Chinese restaurant, named Wok and Roll, on the ground floor. But it may also house Mary Surratt’s ghost as well. From the 1870s onward, occupants of the building have claimed that Surratt’s spirit is responsible for the incomprehensible mumbling and whispers, footsteps, muffled sobs, and creaking floorboards which have unnerved them.

I also rode to the Capitol Hill neighborhood today, where the ghost of Joseph Holt is said to haunt the street near where he lived.  Holt was Judge Advocate General of the Army, and presided over the trials of the Lincoln assassination conspirators. During the trials, accused conspirators Dr. Samuel Mudd (who treated assassin John Wilkes Booth’s broken leg) and Mary Surratt (at whose downtown boarding house the conspirators met) were held at the Old Capitol Prison opposite the U.S. Capitol Building. The modern day U.S. Supreme Court Building stands on the site today. After Holt retired, he allegedly became a recluse in his Capitol Hill home. Local residents have told stories of Holt’s ghost walking down First Street in a blue suit and cape, pondering the guilt of Mudd and Surrat as he heads for the site of the Old Capitol Prison.

Lastly, before heading back to my office, I concluded my self-guided haunted bike tour by stopping by the U.S. Capitol Building. Many people would contend that the Capitol is soulless, but it is no stranger to departed souls. The Capitol Building is reputedly haunted by a former President, many past members of the House of Representatives, other government officials, officers who served during the American Revolutionary War, workers who died during its construction, and perhaps most famously, or infamously, a “demon black cat.”

One of the most illustrious ghosts said to haunt the Capitol Building is John Quincy Adams, the nation’s sixth President, who after serving as President went on to serve nine terms as a Massachusetts Congressman. In 1848, at age 81, Adams fell unconscious on the House floor while in the middle of a speech. Lawmakers carried him into the speaker’s office, where he died two days later. Ghost followers contend that his spirit subsequently made its way back to the chamber, now known as Statuary Hall. A plaque there marks the spot where Adams’ desk once stood. It is from that spot, believers attest, that his ghost sporadically redelivers his unfinished speech.

The infamous “demon black cat” is alleged to prowl the halls of Congress, and make appearances just before a national tragedy or change in Presidential administration. It was first seen in the early part of the 19th century, and a night watchman shot at it in 1862. It has also been seen by other night watchmen and members of the Capitol Police. It appeared before the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the October 1929 stock market crash, and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The cat has not only been seen in the halls, but has repeatedly appeared in Washington’s Tomb. The Tomb, located two levels below the crypt beneath the Capitol Rotunda, was an original feature of the building, planned as a resting place for George Washington and members of his family. But the Washington family politely declined the offer, and the Tomb now stands empty. Or does it?

The specters of at least two soldiers are also said to haunt the Capitol Building.  A few eyewitnesses have claimed that whenever an individual lies in state in the Capitol Rotunda, a World War I doughboy momentarily appears, salutes, then disappears. A second apparition, which eyewitnesses say is the ghost of an American Revolutionary War soldier, has also appeared at the Washington Tomb. According to several stories, the soldier appears, moves around the unused Washington family catafalque, and then passes through the door into the hallway before disappearing.

Thus having concluded my haunted tour, I headed back to my office.  It was a great bike ride, despite the fact that I did not see, hear, or otherwise sense the presence of any ghosts in a city that seems to be full of them.

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James A. Garfield Memorial

Despite serving in office for only 200 days, President James A. Garfield is, in my opinion, one of the most unique and interesting Presidents in history.  For this reason, and because it was on this day in 1881 that President Garfield succumbed to wounds inflicted by an assassin 80 days earlier, for this bike ride I chose to ride to the James A. Garfield Memorial.  It is located on the grounds of the United States Capitol Building in the circle at First Street and Maryland Avenue (MAP ) in the Downtown area of Southwest D.C.

Born in Orange Township, now Moreland Hills, near Cleveland, Ohio on November 19, 1831, James Abram Garfield was the last of the seven Presidents who were born in log cabins.  His father, Abram Garfield, was from Worcester, New York, and came to Ohio to woo his childhood sweetheart, Mehitabel Ballou.  When he got there and found out she was married already, he married her sister Eliza, instead.  His father died when he was still a baby, and he was raised by his widowed mother and elder brother, next door to their cousins, in virtual poverty.

Before eventually entering politics, Garfield first unsuccessfully tried his hand at being a frontier farmer.  Then, after completing his education, he worked teaching Greek and other classical languages for his alma mater in Ohio (now called Hiram College), where he met and eventually married one of his students, Lucretia Rudolph.  Together they had seven children, one of whom lived to be 102 and did not die until the 1970’s.  He also served in the Union Army during the Civil War.

While still serving in the Army in early 1862, Garfield began his political career.  He ran for the U.S. Congress in Ohio’s newly redrawn and heavily Republican 19th District, and won.  During his time in Congress, Garfield supported and voted for the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson in 1866.  Also during his time in Congress, Garfield served on a specially-created Electoral Commission that decided the disputed outcome of the 1876 Presidential election, giving the presidency to his party’s candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes.

Then, while still serving as a Congressman in 1879, Garfield was elected by the Ohio Senate to replace John Sherman as U.S. Senator from Ohio because Senator Sherman resigned his seat to campaign for the presidency.  Garfield then went on, unexpectedly, to beat Sherman in the primaries and then win the 1880 presidential election.  As a result, there was a period of time, following the presidential election, where Garfield was a sitting congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senator-elect, and the U.S. President-elect, all at the same time.

Some other interesting aspects of Garfield include that he was the first primarily left-handed President, but he was also ambidextrous.  It is said you could ask him a question in English and he could simultaneously write the answer in Greek with one hand and in Latin with the other.  Also, as a minister in the Disciples of Christ Christian Church, Garfield is the only President to ever have been a preacher.  Also, as a former professor of languages, Garfield was the first President to campaign in multiple languages. He often spoke in German with German-Americans he encountered along the campaign trail.

On the morning of July 2, 1881, just four months into his presidency, President Garfield went to D.C.’s Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station, then located at the corner of Sixth Street and B Street, and the present site of the West Building of the National Gallery of Art.  He was there to catch a train on his way to a short vacation.  As he walked through the station toward the waiting train, a man named Charles Guiteau stepped behind the President and fired two shots.  Guiteau was an attorney and political office-seeker who was a relative stranger to the President and his administration in an era when Federal positions were doled out on a “who you know” basis. When his requests for an appointment were ignored, a furious Guiteau stalked the President, vowing revenge.

In comparison to the enormous amount of security now surrounding the President when he travels, it is incredible to think that when President Garfield was killed he was walking through a public train station with no bodyguard or security detail.  He was scheduled to travel alone, and was being seen off at the station by two of his sons and two friends.  One of those friends was Robert Todd Lincoln, the son of the first President to be assassinated.

Guiteau’s first bullet grazed Garfield’s arm.  The second bullet passed below the president’s pancreas and lodged near his spine, and could not be found by doctors.  Doctors made several unsuccessful attempts to remove the bullet while Garfield lay in his White House bedroom, awake and in pain.  Alexander Graham Bell, who was one of Garfield’s physicians, invented a metal detector to try to find the location of the bullet but the machine kept malfunctioning, apparently due to the metal framework of the bed Garfield lay in.  Because of the rarity of metal bed frames at the time, the cause of the malfunction was not discovered.

By early September, Garfield, who was recuperating at a seaside retreat in New Jersey, appeared to be recovering.  However, he took a turn for the worse and succumbed to his injuries.  He died 80 days after being shot.  Historical accounts vary as to the exact cause of Garfield’s death.  Some believe that his physicians’ treatments, which included the constant probing of the bullet wound with unsterile instruments, may have led to blood poisoning.  His treatment also included the administration of quinine, morphine, brandy and calomel, as well as feeding him through the rectum.  Many believe that the medical treatment he received eventually led to, or at least hastened, his demise.  Autopsy reports at the time said that pressure from his internal wound had created an aneurism, which was the likely cause of death.  Garfield’s spine, which shows the hole created by the bullet, is kept as a historical artifact by the National Museum of Health and Medicine.

Garfield was the second President to be assassinated, after Abraham Lincoln in 1865.  At 200 days, Garfield’s presidency was the second shortest, behind William Henry Harrison’s presidency, of just 31 days.  Also, Garfield is the second youngest President to die in office, behind John F. Kennedy, who was 127 days younger that Garfield was at the time of their deaths.

This ride was an interesting one, much like Garfield himself was interesting.  And it was not a very long ride, but it was for a President who did not serve for very long in office, and did not live a very long life.  Garfield worked as a farmer, a janitor, a bell ringer, a carpenter, a canal boat driver, a college professor, a lawyer, and a preacher.  He was also a Brigadier General in the Army, a Congressman, a Senator and a President of the United States.  So I guess maybe it’s not about how long you live, but what you do while you’re alive that counts.  

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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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Designated in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy to be observed annually on May 15th, this Sunday is Peace Officers Memorial Day. The Presidential proclamation also designates the week during which that date falls each year as National Police Week. So this week is National Police Week.   In observance of this, on today’s bike ride I visited the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. The Memorial, which is dedicated to all law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty, is located at on E Street, between 4th and 5th Streets (MAP), in northwest D.C.’s Judiciary Square neighborhood.

At the time it was dedicated, the names of over 12,000 fallen officers were engraved on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial’s walls. Currently, there are 20,789 names engraved on the walls of the Memorial, which in addition to local law enforcement officers also includes 1,102 Federal officers, as well as 668 correctional officers and 36 military law enforcement officers. These numbers include 292 female officers.

Unfortunately, unlike most other memorials, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial continues to change from year to year. That is because the new names of fallen officers are added to the monument each spring, in conjunction with National Police Week. This year, there will be 117 more names being added to honor the officers who died in the line of duty in 2015.

In an attempt to capture one of the most personal and human elements of the ever-changing Memorial, during my visit today I took photos of some of the poignant tributes and mementos left behind at the memorial during this year’s National Police Week. Placed at the Memorial by the family, colleagues, friends, and other loved ones of the heroes being honored, the various tributes add a personal touch and an added beauty to the Memorial. They also help us to remember and reflect on the fact that the names are more than an inscription on a wall.  Each name represents someone who knowingly and willingly risked his or her life, and paid the ultimate sacrifice, to protect each of us.  The mementos also give us a glimpse of the pain and the sacrifice of those they left behind.  This also holds true for the 36 law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty already this year.

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Be sure to click on the thumbnails for the full-size photos, so that you can view the details and personalized nature of the tributes.  In addition to the patches, badges, photos and flowers left behind, there are also a number of other personal mementos that may really make you think.

Then after you have browsed through the photos, I encourage you to watch the following short video, narrated by legendary news commentator, author and columnist Paul Harvey, to find out just who policemen and law enforcement officers really are.  And by the way, Paul Harvey’s father, Harry Aurandt, was a  police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  He was killed when Paul Harvey was only three years old.  And his name is inscribed on the wall of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.