Posts Tagged ‘President John F. Kennedy’

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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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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 bullet second 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 Brigadere General in the Army, a Congressman, a Senator and a U.S. President.  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.

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Statue of Sir Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill is a widely-known historic figure. When asked, a majority of people would be able to tell you who he was – the Prime Minister of England during World War II, and one of the greatest world leaders of the 20th century. But most people know relatively little about the man himself, despite the fact that he was one of the most diverse, interesting and admired men in recent history.

The following are some examples of the little-known facts that even people who know of Churchill don’t know about him.

  • Like his father, Churchill was a citizen of England. However, his mother was an American. And late in his life, Churchill became an American citizen when President John F. Kennedy made him the first person to be made an honorary American citizen, an honor that has been conferred on only two people during their lifetimes. The other was Mother Teresa.
  • As a young man he was often bullied and teased mercilessly by other children. Churchill struggled with a stutter and a lateral lisp, and was mocked for his red hair, for which he was given the cruel nickname “Copperknob”.
  • Churchill was extremely accident prone. In fact, he was so accident prone that the world is fortunate he survived into adulthood. During his lifetime Churchill fell off a bridge, fell several times from horses, nearly drowned in a lake, dislocated his shoulder while disembarking from a ship, crashed a plane while learning to fly, and was hit by a car when he looked the wrong way while crossing New York’s Fifth Avenue. None of these incidents, however, left him too worse for wear.
  • For Churchill it was not the third, but rather the fourth time that was a charm. Churchill proposed to three different women during his twenties. But all three said no.  It wasn’t until he proposed to his future wife, Clementine Hozier, that his proposal was accepted.  He and his darling Clementine remained married for 57 years, and the bond between the Churchills remained strong throughout. The couple would often send one another affectionate letters during long periods of absence – sometimes decorated with handdrawn illustrations. The pair also had pet names – she was his “Kat” and he was her “Pug”.
  • Much like the soon-to-be-former Speaker of the House, John Boehner, Churchill was an incredibly emotional man. He would often breakdown into sobs during meetings when he was given bad news, and he can even be heard trying to hold back tears in some of broadcasts and recordings of his speeches.
  • Like many Englishmen, Churchill often enjoyed his afternoon tea. But far from being a teetotaler, Churchill also frequently enjoyed a drink, and particularly Champagne. He once was quoted as saying, “I could not live without Champagne. In victory I deserve it. In defeat I need it.”
  • He also enjoyed good cigars, and was so notorious for his smoking that there is a Cuban cigar named in his honor.
  • Churchill claimed to have witnessed Abraham Lincoln’s ghost walking the corridors of the White House.  He is not the only one to make this claim though.  Both Theodore Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan’s daughter, Patti Davis, also claimed to have encountered President Lincoln’s ghost in the White House.
  • When Churchill retired he moved to the South of France to concentrate on his writing. Under the pen name “Winston S. Churchill”, he wrote about 20 books over the course of his life, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
  • Churchill could be tactful, but didn’t always choose to be.  He once defined tact as “the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.”  But in response to a British politician named Bessie Braddock, who accused him of being drunk, he is quoted as saying, “I may be drunk, Miss, but in the morning I will be sober and you will still be ugly.”
  • Using the pseudonym “Charles Morin”, Churchill was a prolific and accomplished painter. Not only did he use this creative outlet to derive great pleasure, but in it he found a haven to overcome his clinical depression, which he referred to as his “black dog”, a condition from which he suffered throughout his life. He produced almost 600 works of art during his lifetime.
  • In addition to being an artist and a writer, Churchill was, oddly enough, also an amateur bricklayer, and was at one time a member of the Amalgamated Union of Building Trade Workers.  In his retirement he constructed brick buildings and garden walls and at his country home.
  • Lastly, Churchill was also a passionate breeder of butterflies. As a young man, he was a serious butterfly collector on his travels across the world. In fact, his interest in butterflies can be traced back as far as the age of six, when he wrote to his mother, “I am never at a loss to do anything while I am in the country for I shall be occupied with ‘butterflying’ all day.” In his later years, he built a butterfly habitat garden, complete with a brick breeding house, at Chartwell, his country home in England. He even attempted to bring back an extinct species, the black-veined white, by breeding imported caterpillars.

So on today’s lunchtime bike ride, I decided to go see a local statue erected in honor of this joint-citizenship-holding, red-headed, stuttering, clumsy, emotional, clinically-depressed, alcohol-drinking, cigar-smoking, ghost-seeing, book-writing, sometimes-tactless, artistic, bricklaying, butterfly-breeding, world leader.

The statue of Sir Winston Churchill is located at the British Embassy, which was the first embassy built in an area of D.C. now known as Embassy Row.  It is located at 3100 Massachusetts Avenue (MAP), in the Woodland-Normanstone Terrace neighborhood of northwest D.C.  The sculpture was created by an American sculptor named William Mozart McVey, and rests on a granite base.  Underneath the base is a time capsule and soil from England’s Blenheim Palace, from his rose garden at Chartwell, and from the Brooklyn home of his mother. The time capsule will be opened in the year 2063 to celebrate the centenary of the date on which Churchill was given honorary U.S. citizenship.

Churchill is depicted making the “V” for Victory sign with his right hand, and holding a cigar and a cane at his side with his left hand.  He is dressed in a suit, vest, and bow tie.  And symbolically, Churchill is positioned striding forward, with one of the cast bronze statue’s feet on British soil inside the marked embassy grounds, while with the other foot he is stepping into D.C., and thus in the United States.  This was done to symbolize Churchill’s Anglo-American parentage, his dual citizenship, and his work towards the maintenance of the Anglo-American alliance.

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The plaque at the base of the statue reads, “Sir Winston Churchill 1874 – 1965 This statue, by William McVey (1902-1995), was erected in 1966 by public subscription, on the initiative of the English Speaking Union. One foot stands on United States soil, one on British Embassy grounds: a symbol of Churchill’s Anglo-American descent, and of the Alliance he did so much to forge, in war and peace.”

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The Embassy of Cuba

On December 17th of last year, President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced the beginning of a process of normalizing relations between Cuba and the U.S. Then on April 11th of this year, Presidents Obama and President Castro shook hands at the Summit of the Americas in Panama, marking the first meeting between a U.S. and Cuban head of state since the two countries severed their ties in 1961. And on July 1st, President Obama announced the formal restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries. So in recognition of this renewed relationship, often referred to as “The Cuban Thaw”, I decided on this lunchtime bike ride to ride to the diplomatic mission of Cuba to the United States – the newly reopened Cuban Embassy.

The Republic of Cuba actually had a diplomatic outpost in D.C. even before the country existed as an independent nation. In the 1890s, as Cubans mounted a war for independence from Spain, Gonzalo de Quesada established a legation at the fashionable Raleigh Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. After some rebel successes in this war for Cuba’s independence, U.S. President William McKinley in 1897 offered to buy Cuba for $300 million. It was the rejection of that offer, and an explosion in Havana harbor that sank the American battleship USS Maine, that led to the Spanish–American War. In Cuba the war became known as “the U.S. intervention in Cuba’s War of Independence”. On December 10, 1898, Spain and the United States signed the Treaty of Paris and, in accordance with the treaty, Spain renounced all rights to Cuba. The treaty put an end to the Spanish Empire in the Americas, and setting the stage for the birth of the independent Republic of Cuba.

Two decades later, in 1917, Cuba constructed an embassy in the United States, located just two miles north of the White House at 2630 16th Street (MAP) in the northwest D.C.’s Meridian Hill neighborhood. At that time Meridian Hill was home to many of the city’s finest embassies. Close by are the former Italian, Mexican, and Spanish embassies as well as the current embassies of Poland and Lithuania. The Cuban Embassy served in that capacity for the next 43 years, until newly-elected President John F. Kennedy severed diplomatic relations with Cuba following the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and that country’s subsequent decision to closely ally itself with the Soviet Union.

Later, beginning in the 1970s, the embassy building housed the Cuban Interests Section in the United States. The Cuban Interests Section and its counterpart, the United States Interests Section in Havana, were sections of the respective embassies of Switzerland, which acted as protecting power. However, they operated as embassies independently of the Swiss in virtually all but protocol respects.

The United States will be opening an embassy in Havana on Friday at a similar ceremony to be presided over by Secretary of State John Kerry.  I won’t be riding my bike there to see it, though, at least any time soon.

A number of differences and disputes between our two countries remain. These include Cuba’s request that the U.S. return its Naval base in Guantanamo Bay and lift the economic embargo, which Congress has shown little inclination to do anytime soon, as well as the U.S.’s concerns in regard to human rights abuses by the island nation. Whether the reopening of the embassies lead to resolution of these matters remains to be seen, but perhaps it may be a first step in that direction.

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National Bike to Work Day 2015

Today was the 59th annual National Bike to Work Day. Originally begun in 1956 by The League of American Bicyclists, the day is part of National Bike Month, which is recognized annually during the month of May. Over the past half century, Bike to Work Day has grown into a widespread event with countless bike riders taking to the streets nationwide in an effort to get commuters to try bicycling to work as a healthy and safe alternative to driving a car.

In the metropolitan D.C. area, Bike to Work Day has been held annually for over a decade. It was originally started in 2001 by The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), of which I am a member. That first year consisted of a small group of only a few hundred, but has since grown significantly.  There were 16,797 officially registered participants last year.  And hopefully this year will exceed that number.

This year WABA, along with Commuter Connections, a regional network of transportation organizations coordinated by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, as well as a number of local bike shops and organizations, again sponsored pit stops along many of the commuter routes in the area.  So I took a few of hours of vacation time and spent the morning riding to some of the 80 area pit stops that they set up in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.  And I had breakfast at the pit stop at Freedom Plaza, where they were handing out fresh fruit, granola bars, locally-baked bagels, and all kinds of other items.  They also had valet bike parking, and bike mechanics on site to help with problems and make adjustments for those who needed it.  I also picked up a lot of swag, because they were giving away free items like T-shirts, water bottles, sunglasses, tire repair kits, bike lights and bells, area maps, etc.  I also was given coupons for a free bus ride for both my bike and I, which will come in useful if my bike breaks down on one of my rides, and a free meal delivered by Galley Foods, which I’ll use for a lunch one day soon.  I’m also entered for a chance to win a new bike and other prizes in various drawings.

Bike to Work Day is a clean, fun and healthy way to get to work. But even if you’re unable to commute via bicycle, use can use the day as a spark to getting out there and riding a bike more.  Or maybe riding again if it has been a while since you were on a bike.  Whether it’s for recreation, exercise, running errands, or for any other reason, riding a bike not only has its benefits for both the rider and the environment, but it’s also fun.  As a former resident of D.C. named John F. Kennedy was once quoted as saying, “Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride.”

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The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial

Designated by President John F. Kennedy to be observed annually on May 15th, tomorrow is Peace Officers Memorial Day.  The Presidential proclamation also designates the week during which that date falls each year as National Police Week.  So in observance of this, today I rode by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, which is located in 400 block of E Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Judiciary Square neighborhood.

Dedicated on October 15, 1991, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial honors Federal, state and local law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty, making the ultimate sacrifice for the safety and protection of our nation and its people. It features two curving, 304-foot-long blue-gray marble walls on which are carved the names of the officers who have been killed in the line of duty throughout U.S. history, dating back to the first known death of Constable Darius Quimby of the Albany County, New York, Constable’s Office, who was shot while making an arrest on January 3, 1791

Designed by architect Davis Buckley, the Memorial features a reflecting pool which is surrounded by walkways on either side of a three-acre park. Along the walkways are the walls on which are inscribed the names of the fallen law enforcement officers which the Memorial honors.

The Memorial also features four bronze sculptures depicting two male and two female lions, with each watching over a pair of lion cubs. The adult lions were sculpted by Raymond Kaskey, the cubs by George Carr. Below each lion is carved a different quotation, which read: “It is not how these officers died that made them heroes, it is how they lived.” – Vivian Eney Cross, Survivor; “In valor there is hope.” – Tacitus; “The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are as bold as a lion.” – Proverbs 28:1, and; a quote by President George H. W. Bush, which reads, “Carved on these walls is the story of America, of a continuing quest to preserve both democracy and decency, and to protect a national treasure that we call the American dream.”

Unlike many of the other memorials in the city, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial is ever-changing. That is because new names of fallen officers are added to the monument each spring, in conjunction with National Police Week. At the time it was dedicated, the names of over 12,000 fallen officers were engraved on the Memorial’s walls. Currently, there are 20,267 names on the Memorial, which in addition to local law enforcement officers also includes 1,092 Federal officers, as well as 633 correctional officers and 34 military law enforcement officers. These numbers include 280 female officers. There will be 117 more names being added to honor the officers who died in the line of duty in 2014. Sadly, this is a nine percent increase from 2013, when 107 officers were killed.

Although the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial sits on Federal land, it was constructed and is maintained with private funds, not taxpayer dollars. To learn even more about the memorial and the organization that maintains it, please visit the web site for The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.  And since the fund relies on the generosity of individuals, organizations and corporations to maintain the memorial and carry out the work of honoring and remembering our countey’s law enforcement heroes, please consider making a donation.

Please also take a moment before the end of National Police Week to remember all of the Federal, state and local law enforcement officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the safety and protection of our nation, as well as the more than 900,000 sworn law enforcement officers currently serving throughout this country.

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The Annual Blue Mass at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church

On this bike ride I rode to St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, which is located at 619 10th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Penn Quarter neighborhood. The oldest parish in the national capitol city, St. Patrick’s Church was founded in 1794 to minister to the needs of the stonemasons building the White House and the U.S. Capitol Building. The parish continues to serve the needs of downtown D.C. through daily Mass and confession, as well as adult education and cultural activities. It was for one of these activities, the Annual Blue Mass, that I chose today to ride to St. Patrick’s Church.

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation which designated May 15th as Peace Officers Memorial Day, and the week in which that date falls as National Police Week. And each year prior to the beginning of National Police Week, St. Patrick’s Church holds The Blue Mass to pray for those in law enforcement and fire safety, to remember those who have fallen, and to show support for those who continue to serve.

Before the beginning of the Mass, hundreds of law enforcement officers and public safety officials gather outside for the solemn processional into the church. Units from a variety of Federal, state, and local jurisidictions from the D.C. Metropolitan Area and around the country gather in official formation to pass under a huge American flag proudly hung over the street by two fire ladder trucks. Also gathered outside are officers on horseback, as well as pipe and drum corps units.

Inside the church, the principal celebrant and homilist for this year’s Mass was His Eminence Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington. The Blue Mass included Police Officers’ Prayer to Saint Michael, who as the Archangel of battle and defender of Heaven, is said to be the Patron Saint of policemen, and the Firefighters’ Prayer to Saint Florian, the patron saint of firefighters, as well as chimney sweeps, soapmakers, and the city of Linz, Austria. The Mass also included an honor guard, bagpipers, and the solemn playing of “Taps” in memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice during the past year.

Being a police officer or first responder is not only an extremely difficult and dangerous job, but also involves a willingness to sacrifice for others, even if they don’t appreciate it.   Today’s Blue Mass was a powerful reminder of that.

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Police Officers’ Prayer to St. Michael, the Archangel

Dear Saint Michael, Your name means, “Who is Like a God”, and it indicates that You remained faithful when others rebelled against God. Help the police officers of our day who strive to stem the rebellion and evil that are rampant on all sides. Keep them faithful to their God as well as to their country and their fellow human beings. Amen.

Firefighters’ Prayer to Saint Florian

Dear God, through the intercession of our patron, Saint Florian, have mercy on the souls of our comrades who have made the supreme sacrifice in the performance of their duty, and on all who have gone before us after years of faithful discharge of their responsibilities which now rest on ourselves. Give us Grace to prepare each day for our own summons to Your tribunal of justice. Into Your hands O Lord, I commend my spirit. Whenever You call me, I am ready to go. Merciful Father of all men and women, save me from all bodily harm, if it be Your will, but above all, help me to be loyal and true, respectful and honorable, obedient and valiant. Thus fortified by virtue, I shall have no fear, for I shall then belong to You and shall never be separated from You. Amen.