Posts Tagged ‘Smithsonian Institution’

The Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre Memorial

I have been taking photographs during my lunchtime bike rides and posting them in this blog for over four years now.  But it wasn’t until today’s ride that I visited a memorial to a man who contributed to making that possible.  During this ride I visited the memorial to Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, inventor of the daguerreotype, which was the first viable photographic process.

The Daguerre Memorial is located at 7th and F Streets (MAP), across the street from the Verizon Center,  in northwest D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood.  It stands on the grounds of the Old Patent Office Building, which is now home to the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery.  The 11-foot tall bronze sculpture, by American artist Jonathan Scott Hartley, was erected in the rotunda of the Arts and Industries Building at the instigation of the Professional Photographers of America, and was unveiled and dedicated on August 15, 1890 during the eleventh annual PPA convention.

In 1897, during a renovation of the building, the memorial was moved outside to the grounds, where it remained for the next 72 years.  In the early 1960’s The Kodak Company tried to have the statue moved to its George Eastman Museum in Rochester, New York, the oldest museum in the world dedicated to photography.  But the Smithsonian Institution said no.  But then a few years later, in 1969, it was removed and out it storage, and was not on public view for the next two decades.  In 1989, in honor of the 150th anniversary of photography, the Daguerre Memorial was re-dedicated and placed in it’s current location.

The subject of the memorial, Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, better known as Louis Daguerre, was born on November 18, 1787.  He was an accomplished French painter and a developer of the diorama theatre.  But he was most famous for his contributions to photography.

Deguerre became interested in the 1820’s in the process of reproducing images by light exposure, which was first invented by a man named Nicéphore Niépce in 1822.  In 1829 Daguerre partnered with Niépce, and after refining the process significantly, lent his name to the improved process, which became known as the daguerreotype process.

A daguerreotype, unlike its predecessor, required only minutes of light exposure to fix an image on a light-sensitive, polished silver plate, thus creating a usable image that was then refined with various chemicals.  The improvement was so significant that the French Academy of Science acquired the intellectual property rights to the process and on August 19, 1839, the French Government presented the invention as a gift from France “free to the world”, and complete working instructions were published.   Because of this, it became the first photographic process to be used widely in Europe and the United States, and caused Deguerre to become known as one of the fathers of photography.

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

Note:  Inscriptions on the front and sides of the granite base of the memorial read:  Photography, The Electric Telegraph, And The Steam Engine Are The Three Great Discoveries Of The Age.;  No Five Centuries In Human Progress Can Show Such Strides As These. (and);  To Commemorate The First Half-Century In Photography 1839-1889. Erected By The Photographer’s Association Of America, August, 1890.

Advertisements

Plant-Based D.C. Landmarks

Sadly, despite having worked in downtown D.C. for the past 30 years, I had never visited the United States Botanic Garden during the Christmas holiday season before this year.  I’ve been there many times but not during the holidays. But a friend who only lived here for a year before moving out of the area knew about the Botanic Garden’s annual holiday display, entitled Season’s Greenings, and the sights, smells, and sounds that accompany it.  When she asked me about this year’s display, it prompted me to go check it out.  And I’m so glad I did.

This year’s display is a multifaceted one that stretches throughout the Botanic Garden.  First, it includes the return of a series of D.C. landmarks made out of plant materials.  The holiday display also includes thousands of blooms throughout the Conservatory, from exotic orchids to a showcase of heirloom and newly developed poinsettia varieties in the seasonal Poinsettia Room.  Lastly, this year’s holiday decorations include a showcase of model trains chugging around, below, through, and above plant-based recreations of iconic sights and roadside attractions from across the United States.

I will be covering the Poinsettia display, and the model train and roadside attractions showcase in the near future.  Today’s blog post focuses on the collection of D.C. landmarks, all made from a myriad of plant and other natural materials, which is displayed in the Garden Court.  There are a dozen local landmarks and memorials on display this year.  The White House swing set, which had been included in previous years, was not present this year because the actual swing set is no longer at the White House.  In it’s place is the Albert Einstein Memorial.  Also new this year is the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened a little over a year ago.  All of the landmarks would be incredible in and of themselves.  But knowing that they are made of plants adds to the experience.

For added holiday cheer at the Botanic Garden, there are concerts on Tuesday and Thursday evenings in December, when hours are extended until 8pm.  If you can, I highly recommend going on one of these days for both the music and to see the exhibit and plant collections illuminated by colorful lights.  One of my first thoughts after seeing Seasons Greenings was wishing that I had known about it and gone in previous years.  So do yourself a favor and go so you don’t have the same thought years from now.

 

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

1 – U.S. Capitol Building
2 – The Thomas Jefferson Memorial
3 – Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building
4 – Lincoln Memorial
5 – National Museum of African American History and Culture
6 – National Museum of the American Indian
7 – Smithsonian Institution, The Castle
8 – U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory
9 – U.S. Supreme Court
10 – Washington Monument
11 – White House
12 – Albert Einstein Memorial

NOTE:  My blog post on “Seasons Greetings: Railroads and Roadside Attractions” will appear next Monday.

OriginalWashingtonMonument01

The Original Washington Monument

The original Washington monument is not the large obelisk which towers over the National Mall.  That monument was dedicated in 1885. Neither is it the even earlier monument depicting George Washington on horseback. That statue was dedicated in 1860. Both the iconic obelisk and the equestrian statue were created after our nation’s original monument to its first President. The original Washington Monument was commissioned for the centennial of President George Washington’s birth, and was dedicated in 1841, almost two decades earlier than either of those monuments.

In 1832 Congress commissioned American sculptor Horatio Greenough to create a monument to George Washington for the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Building. Known as “Enthroned Washington,” the statue is modeled after Phidias’ Statue of Olympian Zeus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  It depicts a seated and sandal-wearing figure draped in a toga and naked from the waist up.  With his right upraised index finger he is pointing toward heaven.  And with his left hand he is cradling a sheathed sword, hilt forward, symbolizing the turning over of power to the people of the newly-formed country at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War.

However, within the first few weeks after it was installed in the Capitol rotunda, complaints from the public began to flood in.  The complaints centered on President Washington’s semi-nude, nipple-baring state, which many believed to be inappropriate and undignified, especially for an American president.  As a result, the statue quickly became the “butt” of many jokes.  Following their constituent’s lead, many Congressmen also began to voice objections to the statue.  In fact, enough legislators found it to be so risqué and controversial that Congress voted the following year to move it out of the U.S. Capitol Building.  It was initially moved outside, to the east lawn of the Capitol grounds.  The statue eventually became part of the Smithsonian Institution’s collection and, in 1908, was moved to the “Smithsonian Castle.”  It remained there until 1962 when it crossed the National Mall to the new Museum of History and Technology, which is now the National Museum of American History (MAP).  It was there that I was able to visit it during this lunchtime bike ride.  And even though I had to leave the bike outside, it was worth going inside to view it.

WashingtonMonumentOriginal01     WashingtonMonumentOriginal02
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Left – African American school children facing the Horatio Greenough statue of George Washington at the U.S. Capitol.  (Library of Congress Control Number 91482755.  Contributor: Frances Benjamin Johnston. Circa 1899.)
Right – Crowd at the inauguration of Rutherford B. Hayes, on the east front grounds of the U.S. Capitol, surrounding Horatio Greenough’s statue of George Washington (Library of Congress Control Number 91482755.  Contributor: Brady’s National Photographic Portrait Galleries. Circa 1877.)

Note:  Historic photos obtained from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The National Postal Museum

The National Postal Museum

You don’t have to be a philatelist, more commonly known as a stamp collector, to appreciate today’s destination, but it helps. On today’s lunchtime bike ride I went to the National Postal Museum, located at 2 Massachusetts Avenue (MAP) in northeast D.C.’s NoMa neighborhood. The museum is across the street from Union Station, in the historic City Post Office Building that once served as the main Post Office of D.C. from 1914, when it was constructed, until 1986.

The National Postal Museum was established through a joint agreement between the United States Postal Service and the Smithsonian Institution, and opened in July of 1993. As you might expect, the museum houses on of the largest stamp collections in the world. Known as the National Philatelic Collection, it was originally established at the Smithsonian Institution in 1886 with the donation of a sheet of 10-cent Confederate postage stamps. Generous gifts from individuals and foreign governments, transfers from government agencies and occasional purchases have increased the collection to today’s total of more than 5.9 million items.

In addition its vast collection of stamps, the museum also houses many exhibits and interactive displays about the history of the U.S. Postal Service as well as mail service around the world, including postal history materials that pre-date stamps. Among other various items from the history of the postal system, it also has on display vehicles such as stagecoaches and airplanes which were used to transport the mail, as well as mailboxes and mailbags, postal uniforms and equipment, exhibits on the Pony Express, the use of railroads with the mail, and the preserved remains of a dog named Owney, the unofficial Postal Service mascot. The museum also houses a gift shop and a separate stamp shop where visitors can purchase stamps and other collectibles.

The National Postal Museum receives funding through three primary sources: the U.S. Postal Service, the Smithsonian Institution’s annual Federal appropriation, and gifts from private individuals, foundations, and corporations. So for visitors, admission is free.

PostalMuseum05     PostalMuseum04     PostalMuseum03
PostalMuseum06     PostalMuseum07     PostalMuseum01

Owney the Postal Service Mascot

Owney the Postal Service Mascot

On this bike ride I went to meet a dog named Owney. Also known by the nickname “Globe-trotter,” Owney was a scruffy terrier-mix mutt, who was nation’s most famous canine during his lifetime.

Owney first wandered into a Post Office in Albany, New York in 1888, and eventually went on to become a world-travelling mascot for The U.S. Postal Service.  It is thought that Owney’s original owner was might have been a postal clerk who let the dog walk with him to work.  Then at some point, his owner moved away and Owney stayed on at the post office where he had made a number of new friends, becoming a regular fixture there. Others speculate that Owney was homeless before wandering into the post office. Whatever the case may be, once he wandered in to the Albany Post Office, Owney found himself a new home and a new family.

Owney was attracted to something about the mailbags. Perhaps it was the texture, or maybe the scent. No one really knows for sure. Anyway, he liked them so much that he would come in and make himself at home among them.  In cold weather, postal workers would even bundle him in mailbags to help keep him warm. Owney became somewhat of a guardian of the bags and the mail in them, and would not allow anyone other than mail clerks to touch or handle the bags.  In fact, Owney liked the mailbags so much that he soon began to follow them when they left Albany.

At first Owney accompanied the mail bags onto mail wagons. Eventually, he also began to follow the bags that were loaded onto the Railway Post Office trains. Owney rode the trains across the state, and eventually around the country. Then, in 1895, Owney made an around-the-world trip, traveling with mailbags on trains and steamships from the Tacoma, Washington, sailing for China and Japan and through the Suez Canal before sailing back to New York City.  He then returned to Albany. Over the next decade Owney traveled by train over 140,000 miles, following postal workers and mailbags almost everywhere they traveled.

At a time when train wrecks were all too common, no train on which Owney rode was ever involved in a wreck. So railway mail clerks considered him a good luck charm, and adopted Owney as their unofficial mascot for the next nine years. Clerks along his routes would mark Owney’s travels by placing metal baggage tags with each city’s name on his collar. Each time Owney returned home to Albany, the clerks there would see the tags and find out where Owney had been.

After a while Postmaster General John Wanamaker, who was one of Owney’s many fans, learned that his collar was weighed down by an ever-growing number of tags. So he gave Owney a vest on which to wear and display the “trophies.” Postmaster Wanamaker also declared that Owney was the Official Mascot of the Rail Mail Service.

By the spring of 1897 Owney was in poor health. He had been “retired” from traveling and was living with a postal worker in St. Louis, Missouri.  But the trains and the dog could not be separated for long, and by the summer he was again riding the rails.

On June 11, 1897, a postal worker in Toledo, Ohio was showing off Owney and his collection of tags to a local newspaper reporter. Owney, who was an old dog by then and still in poor health, was agitated and barking. He then turned and bit the postal worker on the hand.  The postal worker spread the word that Owney was mad, and the Toledo postmaster summoned the town marshall, who shot him, thus bringing a sad ending to both the life and the career of the famous little mutt.

Despite his one fatal gaff, Owney was still a beloved dog. Postal clerks raised funds to have Owney preserved, and he was given to the Post Office Department’s headquarters in here in D.C. Owney later made appearances in St. Louis at the 1904 World’s Fair, and the Post Office Department’s exhibit at the Sesquicentennial exhibit in Philadelphia, before returning to D.C.  In 1911, the department transferred Owney to the Smithsonian Institution, where he was put on display in the National Museum of American History.  In 1993 he moved to The National Postal Museum, where he has remained ever since.

After over 100 years, Owney continues to remain popular. In 2011, Owney was deemed worthy of depiction on a U.S. postage “forever” stamp. Owney has also been the main character in five hard cover books, a graphic novel entitled “The Secret Around-the-World Adventures of Owney the Postal Dog,” and an ebook entitled “Owney the Mail Pouch Pooch,” which features Owney’s theme song entitled “Owney — Tales From The Rails,” sung my country music artist Trace Adkins.  Owney also has his own blog, as well as a Facebook and Twitter pages.  Owney even has his own interactive iPhone app which can be downloaded for free at the iTunes store.

Owney can be seen on display in the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum, wearing his vest and surrounded by some of the over 1,000 tags that he accumulated on his travels. Many of Owney’s tags did not survive, but museum currently has 372 Owney tags in its collections. The National Postal Museum is located at 2 Massachusetts Avenue (MAP), next to Union Station in northeast D.C.’s Swampoodle neighborhood. The Museum is open from 10:00am to 5:30pm daily except for Christmas. And you can’t beat the price of admission – it’s free.

Owney03     Owney02     Owney05

PostalMuseum01     Owney01a     Owney0a

Frederick Douglas House on Capitol Hill

Frederick Douglas House on Capitol Hill

The Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, which is administered by the National Park Service, is located in Southeast D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood. Established in 1988, the site preserves the home and estate of Frederick Douglass, one of the most prominent African Americans of the 19th century. Despite the home at the historic site being better known and more visited, however, this was not Douglas’ original D.C. home.

When he moved to D.C. in 1871, Douglass purchased an Italianate-style house at 316 A Street (MAP) in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Northeast D.C. Two years later he also bought the adjacent house at 318 A Street. It was not until years later that Douglass moved to a house he had built on 17th Street in northwest D.C., and finally to the house in Anacostia, where he lived until his death in 1895.

Frederick Douglass was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey in February of 1818. His mother was a slave woman in Talbot County, Maryland, and his father was a white man, rumored to be her master. As a boy, he realized the importance of education, especially after his master forbade the reading lessons that a kindly mistress had begun to give him. So he secretly taught himself to read and write. While working as a slave in Baltimore, he met and married a free woman named Anna Murray in 1838. This was the same year he fled Baltimore to escape slavery, briefly passing through New York. After settling in Bedford, Massachusetts, he changed his surname to Douglass, taken from Sir Walter Scott’s poem, “Lady of the Lake.”

Douglass was a firm believer in the equality of all people, whether black, female, Native American, or recent immigrant, and famously stated, “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.” It was this belief that helped influence him to become involved in the abolitionist movement to abolish slavery.  Douglass conferred with President Abraham Lincoln on the treatment of black soldiers, and with President Andrew Johnson on the subject of black suffrage.

However, as his involvement in the movement and his outspokenness brought recognition, it lead to his identity being found out. This resulted slave hunters trying to hunt him down, and caused Douglass to have to flee once again. This time he left the country and moved to England, where some British friends purchased his freedom in 1846, letting Douglass go home to Massachusetts as a free man and well-known public figure. In 1847, he settled in Rochester, New York where he continued his work, for which he gained even more recognition and popularity for his speaking and writing skills. As a leader of the abolitionist movement, he became known as a social reformer and American statesman, who stood as a living counter-example to slaveholders’ arguments that slaves did not have the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens.

He then moved to D.C. in 1871, eventually being appointed by President Rutherford B. Hayes to the position of U.S. Marshal for the District of Columbia in 1877, and the Recorder of Deeds in 1881. It was also while living in D.C., in 1884, that he married his long-time friend Helen Pitts, a white feminist from New York, after his first wife to whom he had been married for 44 years died. After mounting criticism, including from both their families, Douglass responded by saying that his first marriage had been to someone the color of his mother, and his second to someone the color of his father.

The original houses on Capitol Hill stayed in the Douglass family until 1920′s, and remained in private hands until the mid-1960s when Warren Robbins established the Museum of African Art in them. Later Robbins gave the properties and the museum collection of 5000 works and an extensive photo archive on African art and culture as a gift to the Smithsonian Institution. To help subsidize the cost of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture currently being built on the National Mall, the Smithsonian institution sold the property.

The exteriors of the houses have changed very little since the Douglass family live there in the 1870s, and have been partly restored and furnished with period pieces. They currently house The Frederick Douglass Museum and Caring Hall of Fame.

DouglasHouse02     DouglasHouse03

Monument to Robert Emmet

Monument to Robert Emmet

On a recent ride along “Embassy Row”, the section of Massachusetts Avenue in northwest D.C. between Scott Circle and the north side of the U.S. Naval Observatory, I noticed how many statues, memorials, and pieces of art there are in the area.   Because of the high number of embassies, diplomatic missions, and other diplomatic representations that are concentrated along Massachusetts Avenue and the nearby side streets which also host diplomatic buildings, there are a lot of interests and opportunities for such public displays.

One such statue I ran across was a statue of Robert Emmet.  Located in a grassy median at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and 24th Street near Sheridan Circle (MAP), it is owned by the Smithsonian Institution and is on loan to the National Park Service.  The bronze statue is one of four examples of this cast.  The other three are located in St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin. Ireland; Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, and; Emmetsburg, Iowa.

Robert Emmet was an Irish nationalist, orator, rebel leader and patriot born in Dublin, Ireland. He led an abortive rebellion against British rule in 1803 and was captured, tried and executed at the age of 25.

The Emmet family had also sympathized with the American Revolution.  A plaque at the base of the statue contains extracts from one of Emmet’s speeches.  It reads, “I wished to procure for my country the guarantee which Washingto procured for America.  I have parted from everything that was dear to me in this life for my country’s cause.  When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then, and not till then let my epitaph be written.”

Shortly after the American war for independence, a group known as the United Irishmen planned, with French support, an insurrection against English rule. Like his elder brother Thomas, Robert Emmet became involved with the group.  While planning the insurrection, an explosion at one of their secret arms depots forced their hand.  The ill-planned insurrection was carried out in utter confusion and ended in abject defeat.  But not before Ireland’s Lord Chief Justice, Lord Kilwarden, and his nephew, were pulled from their carriage and murdered. Emmet escaped and initially hid in the mountains. He subsequently moved to be near his fiancée, Sarah Curran, with whom he hoped to escape to America. However, he was captured, tried and found guilty of high treason, and hanged in September of 1803.

Over time, Emmet became an heroic figure in Irish history, and his story and legacy accompanied Irish immigrants to America.  In addition to the three statues in this country, there are a number of places named after him as well, including:  Emmetsburg, Iowa, and Emmet County, Iowa; Emmet, Nebraska, and; Emmett, Michigan, and Emmet County, Michigan.