Posts Tagged ‘The Ellipse’

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David’s Tent

Over the years as I have been riding a bike during my lunch breaks at work, I have periodically seen a large white tent erected in different parts of the downtown area of the city.  On it’s side there has been a sign which reads, “davidstent.dc.org“.  I first saw it about four years ago in President’s Park on The Ellipse near the White House.  Since that time I have intermittently seen it near John Marshal Place Park just off Constitution Avenue, as well as various other sites.  It is currently located on the National Mall just east of the pond in Constitution Gardens and about 100 yards due north of the National World War II Memorial (MAP), and within view of the White House.  On this ride I stopped in to learn more about it.

Jason Hershey founded David’s Tent DC in 2012 as a non-denominational Christian non-profit organization dedicated to performing public worship services.  That first year a service was to be held in the park at McPherson Square, but at the suggestion of the National Park Service it was moved to The Ellipse instead.  And although the Park Service had never given a permit for more than 14 days in that area, they granted David’s Tent a 45-day permit.  So it was that David’s Tent began with 40 days of continuous worship and praise.

When the organization decided to hold another event the following year, it again was located on The Ellipse.  However, that year the Federal government shut down due to the fact that no budget had been passed.  And in addition to closing most Federal departments and agencies, the first things to close were the National Parks, including the National Mall and The Ellipse.  I vividly remember during that time the news stories of attempts to keep World War II veterans from being allowed to visit the closed memorial that had been made to honor them.  Amazingly though, David’s Tent was allowed to continue uninterrupted.  That year they did it again for 42 days, which equates to being 1,000 hours long.

David’s Tent has continued ever year, and gotten bigger and longer in each consecutive year.  In 2014, the service was extended to 50 days, during which they prayed for each state for one day.

This time is the organization’s most ambitious event to date.  The tent was pitched in its current location last September 11th, and David’s Tent is committed to performing nonstop worship music on the National Mall for 14 months straight, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, until Election Day this November.  This weekend, they will reach the one year mark on their way to the goal of a 422-day worship service.  Hershey, the founder of David’s Tent, says there’s no political agenda behind the vigil despite its significant start and end dates, and its notable location in the heart of our nation’s capital.

David’s Tent is inspired by the biblical story of King David, who pitched a tent near his palace and hired more than 4,000 musicians and 288 singers to worship there continually throughout his 33-year reign. David made worship central for his nation, and it is said to have brought blessing on the whole nation. David’s Tent DC is attempting to do the same here in America.  So if you’re in downtown D.C. during the next few months, I encourage you to stop in, learn more, and participate.

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

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The Butt-Millet Memorial Fountain

On this lunchtime bike ride I rode over to President’s Park, which encompasses the White House, a visitor center, Lafayette Square, and The Ellipse. There are a number of monuments and memorials located throughout the park, and on this ride I specifically went there to see the Butt-Millet Memorial Fountain, which is located just south and within sight of the White House, and about thirty yards northwest of The Zero Milestone, near the western junction of E street and Ellipse Road (MAP).

The fountain is a memorial to Archibald Willingham DeGraffenreid Clarendon Butt and Francis Davis Millet, believed to be the only officials of the United States government who perished, along with more than 1,500 others, when the “unsinkable” RMS Titanic hit an iceberg during its maiden voyage and sunk on the night of April 14th through to the morning of April 15th in 1912.

On May 16, 1912, just one month after the Titanic went down, Senator Augustus Octavius Bacon of Georgia submitted a resolution authorizing the constructing of a private memorial to Butt and Millet on federally owned land somewhere in D.C..  Bacon argued that Butt and Millet were public servants who deserved to be memorialized separately from the rest of the dead.  Initial press reports indicated that President William Howard Taft planned an elaborate dedication ceremony for the memorial.  But Taft was no longer president by late 1913, having lost the presidential election to Woodrow Wilson.  So the Butt-Millet Memorial Fountain was dedicated without ceremony on October 25, 1913.

The Fountain is 12 feet high, with an octagonal grey granite base which supports an 8 feet wide bowl made of golden brown Tennessee marble. Rising up from the bowl is a panel with two relief figures. The one on the southern side of the panel depicts a man in armor and helmet who is holding a shield, representing military valor and memorializing Butt. The figure on the north side of the panel depicts a woman with paint brush and palette, represents the fine arts and memorializes Millet.

Butt, known as “Archie” to his friends, was a United States Army officer. He served in the Quartermaster Corps during the Spanish-American War, where he gained notice for his work in logistics and animal husbandry.   Later, after brief postings in D.C and Cuba, he was appointed as a military aide to President Theodore Roosevelt. At the time of his death he was serving as a military aide to President Taft. Known as one of the most eligible bachelors in D.C., Butt never married and mystery surrounded his personal life as well as his death. There were many sensational accounts reported of Butt’s last moments aboard the Titanic.  But none of them has ever been verified. Although his body was never found, a cenotaph in the shape of a Celtic cross memorializes him in Arlington National Cemetery.

Millet was an accomplished painter, sculptor, and writer, and at the time of his death served as vice chairman of the Commission of Fine Arts, a committee with approval authority for the “design and aesthetics” of construction within the national capitol city. Some mystery also surrounded Millet’s personal life. Despite being married and a father of three, he is also thought to have had several same-sex relationships during his life.   Millet’s body was recovered after the sinking and was buried in Bridgewater, Massachusetts.

Despite the mystery in their personal lives, both men were well liked in local social circles and among the D.C. elite. In Butt’s eulogy in The Washington Times, it stated that, “the two men had a sympathy of mind which was most unusual.” Noting that Butt was “mourned by Washingtonians of all walks of life,” the article claimed, “None could help admiring either man.” Some historians have also asserted that Butt and Millet were involved in a romantic relationship. They were close friends and housemates, often attending social gatherings and parties together. And they were aboard the Titanic because they were returning to the United States after vacationing together in Europe.  Quite possible an early example of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” they were together in both life and death.

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

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The U.S. Capitol Gatehouses and Gateposts

In addition to the U.S. Capitol Building itself, there are a number of other buildings, memorials and other attractions on the building’s grounds.  But during this lunchtime bike ride I went to see some that are no longer there.  They are no longer on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol Building because they were moved just over a dozen blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue, and are now located in President’s Park on The Ellipse, just south of The White House.

The U.S. Capitol Gatehouses and Gateposts were designed circa 1828 as part of the original Capitol design by then-Architect of the Capitol Charles Bulfinch. Thus they are also often referred to as the Bullfinch Gatehouses. The first gatehouse, known as the East Gatehouse, and three gateposts, now stand at the corner of 15th Street and Constitution Avenue (MAP) in the Downtown neighborhood of northwest D.C.  The other, the West Gatehouse, is two blocks further up the street, at 17th Street and Constitution.

Similar in detail to the four Bulfinch Gatehouses, numerous gateposts were designed by Bullfinch and incorporated in the former fence around the Capitol grounds.  As part of major landscaping renovations of the Capitol grounds in 1887 by Frederick Law Olmsted, all of the gateposts were removed.  Seven survive today.  Three are located near the East Gatehouse.  The four other remaining gateposts were relocated to The United States National Arboretum, much like the National Capitol Columns, which also used to be located at the U.S. Capitol Building but now reside at the Arboretum in northeast D.C.  The gateposts there now flank the main entrance at New York Avenue and Springhouse Road.

The original use of the gatehouses and coordinating gateposts were described in a 1834 guide to the U.S. Capitol Building as “…four grand entrances to these grounds, two from the north and south for carriages, and two from the east and west for foot passengers. The western entrance at the foot of the hill is flanked by two stone lodges, highly ornamented for watch houses…”

In 1880 the gatehouses and gateposts were relocated to their present locations. And in 1938 – 1939, the relocated gatehouses were restored under the direction of National Park Service architect Thomas T. Waterman.  At that time they were given new roofs, doors and windows. The gatehouses are almost identical. One major difference, however, is that the East Gatehouse bears two high water marks carved into the stone to commemorate flooding in 1877 and 1881. The gatehouses are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places in their new locations.

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

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The American Meridian Memorial

As I was riding around the campus of George Washington University on this lunchtime bike ride, I happened upon a marker that I hadn’t seen before. As I would come to find out, it is The American Meridian Memorial.  Located on a small bluff near the corner of 24th and H Streets (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Foggy Bottom Neighborhood, it was once considered by some to be the center of the world, establishing a geographical line that separated the Eastern and Western hemispheres. 

Prior to 1850, different countries measured longitude from different meridians. Because there was no agreement for a prime meridian, the way there is with latitude and the Equator, prime meridians and associated maps were identified in Greenwich, Paris, Rome, and various other European centers. American navigators tended to use either the French meridian at Paris or the British meridian at Greenwich.

Beginning in 1850, the United States established and began to measure distance from the American Meridian. The Federal government officially used this line, which ran along 24th Street, to measure distances on land, survey the West, coordinate the nation’s clocks, and record the start of new days.

However, few navigators at that time adopted the American Meridian, as they owned charts that gave distances relative to Paris or London, rather than 24th Street in D.C.  In fact, the United States continued to utilize the Greenwich Meridian for longitude at sea. But land surveyors welcomed the ability to measure from the new American Meridian rather that a line that lay across a broad ocean.  So as teams of American surveyors and mapmakers ventured steadily westward, those square boundaries of the Western states were all measured in appealing round numbers from the American Meridian.

Oregon would be the first to use the American Meridian in 1859 when it became a state. The southeastern border of the new state would be exactly 42 degrees West of the American Meridian. Colorado Territory in 1861 would be next to use the Meridian, establishing it’s eastern (27°W, Am) and western (34°W, Am) borders with the newly established meridian. The eastern border of Wyoming is exactly 27 degrees west of 24th Street, Arizona is 32 degrees west, and the Utah-Nevada border is 36 degrees west

The United States, via an act of Congress, officially abandoned the American Meridian in 1912, when it accepted the meridian at Greenwich as the international standard. Thus, the American Meridian was relegated to history. Today, the meridian marker is one of three reminders in D.C. of the evolution of cartography in this country. Meridian Hill Park was named for a stone obelisk that was erected there along the original prime meridian in 1804.  The stone marker there is long gone, but the park named after it remains.  And the third remnant of the pre-Greenwich Meridian age is The Zero Milestone, which is located on The Ellipse directly south of the White House.  With the advancement of technology, one day the Greenwich Meridian may be a thing of the past as well.

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The Original Patentees of the District of Columbia Memorial

As I was leisurely riding near The Ellipse and President’s Park on this lunchtime bike ride, I saw a relatively small, nondescript granite shaft near the sidewalk along 15th Street. To the tourists and others walking past it, it seemed as unimportant as an unsolicited opinion. But the fact that they were ignoring it made me even more curious to find out about it. So I stopped to look at it and take some photographs, and found out that it is the Original Patentees of the District of Columbia Memorial.

Also known as the Settlers of the District of Columbia Monument, or the First Settlers Monument, the memorial is an historic feature of President’s Park South. It is located on the eastern side of The Ellipse to the east of the Boy Scouts of America Memorial and on the western side of 15th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.

Until the late part of the 18th century, the Continental Congress met in numerous locations, effectively resulting in several different cities having served as the nation’s capital. These cities included: Baltimore, Maryland; Philadelphia, Lancaster and York, Pennsylvania; Princeton and Trenton, New Jersey, and; New York City. Because of this, the Continental Congress decided that the nation’s capital be established permanently at one location. Disagreements quickly rose as to which state it would be a part of. In 1790, Alexander Hamilton proposed a solution that established the new permanent capital on Federal land rather than in a state. President George Washington, who was raised in the Potomac area, was chosen to pick the site. As a result, the permanent capital was established in 1791 in its current location, with both Maryland and Virginia giving up land along the Potomac River to establish the Federal district.

The Original Patentees of the District of Columbia Memorial commemorates the eighteen original patentees who granted land for the establishment of the nation’s new capital city. A patentee is someone to whom a grant is given and, in this case, the grant was ownership of the land that became the District of Columbia. The monument to commemorate these men was given to the city by the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and was dedicated during a ceremony on April 25, 1936.

On the east side of the monument facing 15th Street is inscribed “To The Original Patentees/Prior To 1700 Whose Land / Grants Embrace The Site Of / The Federal City. Monument Erected By The / National Society Of The / Daughters American / Colonists, April 25, 1936.” The names of the original landowners, listed on the other three sides, and the date of their land patents, are inscribed in the base of the monument. They are, in ascending order: Robert Troope, 1663; George Thompson, 1663; Francis Pope, 1663; John Langworth, 1664; John Lewger, 1666; Richd and Wm Pinner, 1666; Zachariah Wade, 1670; Richard Evans, 1685; Henry Jowles, 1685; Andrew Clarke, 1685; John Peerce, 1685; Walter Houp, 1686; Walter Thompson, 1686; Ninian Beall, 1687; John Walson, 1687; William Hutchison, 1696; Walter Evans, 1698, and; William Atcheson, 1698.

Each of the four sides of the monument also contains a stone relief panel carved by Carl Mose, a former instructor at the Corcoran School of Art. The panels contain symbols of the early pioneers’ agricultural pursuits. On the east side above the main inscription is a relief depicting a tobacco plant, a major cash crop of the colonies. The relief on the north side of the monument depicts a fish, a food staple in those times. On the west face of the monument is a relief of a stalk of corn, which native Indians introduced to the colonists, showing them how to use as food and fertilizer for other crops. And on the monument’s south face is a relief of a wild turkey, another abundently-available food staple of the time.

So as most people walk past it without a second thought, the monument to the men whose land became the nation’s capital stands silently by to remind us of their names, which may have otherwise been lost over time. And had it not been for these men, the location of our capital, and even the history of our country, may have been different.

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

Organization of American States Headquarters Building

The Organization of American States Headquarters Building

On this lunchtime bike ride I rode to the headquarters for the Organization of American States (OAS), known as the Pan American Union Building, which is just off of Pennsylvania Avenue and across the street from The Ellipse, at 200 17th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood.

The OAS is an inter-continental organization which was founded in April of 1948 by the United States and 20 Latin American countries. Officially, the organization was established in order to achieve among its member states – as stipulated in Article 1 of its Charter – “an order of peace and justice, to promote their solidarity, to strengthen their collaboration, and to defend their sovereignty, their territorial integrity, and their independence.”

Unofficially, however, the reasons for its formation were somewhat different than the charter’s stated intent. The Latin American member states wanted a political institution to deal with intra-hemispheric disputes based on their fears that the United States, intent on its anticommunist crusade at that time, might engage in unilateral interventions against Latin American governments. For the United States, it was intended to serve as a protection against communist penetration of the Western Hemisphere.

The United States insisted that the charter include a statement condemning “international communism or any totalitarianism” as “irreconcilable with the tradition of the American countries.” For the Latin American delegates, the key article of the OAS charter stated that, “No State or group of States has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other State.”

The OAS has had some successes, including settling border conflicts between various member countries, such as the truce and subsequent resolution of the Soccer War between Honduras and El Salvador in 1969.  However, in generally it never actually functioned as any of the member states had intended, and neither side got what it had hoped for when it was formed.

The OAS proved a disappointment to the United States because the other member states did not share its own Cold War zeal against communism. This was evidenced by the organization’s refusal to approve direct action to remove what the United States felt were “communist threats,” most notably in Fidel Castro’s Cuba. For the other member states, disappointment in the OAS centered around the organization’s failure to curb the United States use of unilateral force in other situations, such as the U.S.-orchestrated overthrow of the government of Guatemala in 1954, the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961, and its intervention in the Dominican Republic in 1965.

The OAS has grown over the years to a total of 35 countries, and now includes Canada and 14 additional independent countries in the Caribbean. However, since the end of the Cold War, the OAS’s importance in intra-hemispheric affairs has continued to diminish.

The OAS’s original charter members, listed in alphabetical order, were Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Countries that were subsequently admitted, in chronological order of when they became a member, are Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Grenada, Suriname, Dominica, Saint Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Bahamas, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Canada, Belize, and most recently, Guyana, which was admitted in 1991.

The National Menorah

The National Menorah

The National Menorah, which is considered the world’s largest, is located on The Ellipse in President’s Park (MAP), near The National Christmas Tree just south of the White House. Because tonight is the 35th-annual White House lighting ceremony of the National Menorah, I decided to make it the destination for this lunchtime bike ride.

The lighting of the Menorah marks the first of the eight nights of Chanukah. Perhaps the most prominent public Chanukah program in the world, the National Menorah lighting ceremony is attended by thousands of people every year. It is also seen via television newscasts, live internet feeds and through other media by tens of millions of people across the nation and around the world. And since many of them are not near any Jewish community, it makes it possible for them to properly celebrate and enjoy Chanukah in a way that they might not otherwise be able to do.

The first public menorah on record in the United States was lit in 1974 at Independence Mall in Philadelphia as part of a campaign initiated by Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson to raise awareness of the holiday and support for holding public menorah lightings. Five years later, a public Menorah appeared for the first time in D.C., helping it to become a premier national and even international symbol of the festival of Chanukah. It was attended in 1979 during the midst of the Iran hostage crisis by President Jimmy Carter, who shared greetings with the assembled crowd and then lit the shamash, which is the helper candle from which the others are kindled. Every president since has recognized Chanukah with a special menorah-lighting. And in 1982, the menorah lit in Lafayette Park was referred to by President Ronald Reagan as the “National Menorah,” and the moniker stuck.

Over time, the unifying initiative of public menorah lightings has become such a sensation that it has inspired many communities across the globe to sponsor more and greater public menorah lighting ceremonies of their own. Today, there are lighting ceremonies at such locations such as the Sydney Opera House, Moscow’s Red Square, Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, Hong Kong Harbor, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and, obviously, the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

It has become a tradition for Cabinet-level Federal officials to assist in the lighting of the National Menorah. This year, however, Vice President Joe Biden will assist in the lighting. The ceremony will take place at 4 p.m., but attendees are encouraged to arrive as early as possible due to security measures.

If you can’t be there in person, you can not only watch it live, but you can participate in the annual celebration of Chanukah online through “Virtual Chanukah.” Through innovative concepts like Olive Drops, CyberDreidle, e-mitzvot, etc., Jews anywhere can illuminate their homes and lives with the special glow and meaning of the Chanukah lights, celebrating the victory of right over might, good over evil, and light over darkness.

Chag Sameach.

The National Christmas Tree

The National Christmas Tree

On this bike ride I went by the Ellipse in President’s Park (MAP), just south of the White House.  It was at this location that the first National Christmas Tree was placed in December of 1923.  The tree was a 48-foot Balsam fir donated by the President of Middlebury College in Vermont, and was decorated with 2,500 electric bulbs in red, white and green, donated by the Electric League of Washington.  At 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve, President Calvin Coolidge walked from the White House to the Ellipse to light the tree from his native state.  Music for this first lighting ceremony was provided by a local choir and a “quartet” from the U.S. Marine Band.

It has now been almost a century since that first National Christmas Tree was illuminated, and the American holiday tradition will continue later today. This evening President Obama and his family will flip the switch for the 92nd annual lighting of the National Christmas Tree. This year’s ceremony is sponsored by the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks, and will be hosted by actor Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson. Scheduled performers for tonight’s lighting ceremony include multi Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter NE-YO, multiplatinum-selling artist Steve Miller, and country star Chely Wright along with pop phenomenon Fifth Harmony, Grammy-winning legend Patti LaBelle, pop world duo Nico & Vinz, and award-winning vocal group The Tenors, who will all be performing a collection of holiday favorites.

Santa Claus, who has been known to drop by for past Christmas tree lightings, just might make another appearance this year as well. However, if you don’t see him this evening, he and his elves will be at his workshop near the tree on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 12.30 – 9.30 pm through December 21.  After that, he and his elves will return to the North Pole to finish getting ready for the big day.

If you don’t already have tickets for this evening, don’t even plan to go. Free tickets were given out weeks ago through a national lottery that closed on October 20th. But even if you can’t be there, you can experience it online live. The pre-show starts at 4:30 pm this afternoon, and along with the lighting ceremony can be viewed live online.  Following today’s online stream, the show will also be available anytime on-demand. The event will also air on public television throughout the month of December.  For broadcast times, check local listings or the National Christmas Tree Lighting website.

The National Tree and all of the state trees surrounding it will be lit from dusk until 10 p.m. through New Year’s Day. Plus there will be free musical performances each day from musical groups from D.C. and across the country. No tickets are required for the nightly entertainment.

Since the lighting ceremony takes place in the evening and my daily break for a lunchtime bike ride always comes during the day, I was not able to see the illuminated tree on this ride. However, one of the other features surrounding the National Christmas Tree can be seen during the day. That is the National Christmas Tree Railroad.  Celebrating it’s 21st year, the National Christmas Tree Railroad is a group of large-scale model trains which are sponsored, constructed and operated by a group of non-paid volunteers who operate the trains in a display around the base of the tree. It is one of my favorite aspects of the display, and makes a trip to see the National Christmas Tree worth it, even during the daytime.

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The Zero Milestone

The Zero Milestone

Just south of The White House near the northern end of The Ellipse (MAP) stands a four-foot high pink granite block topped with a brass compass.  Although it is in the middle of a sidewalk, most people walking by are oblivious to it.  If they notice it at all, they frequently use it as just a convenient spot to steady their cameras when taking photographs of The White House, or on which to set down other personal items while photographing each other in front of the White House.  However, the often overlooked granite block has both significance and history.

On July 7, 1919, a temporary marker was authorized by Congress to establish a fixed point for measuring distances, similar to the Roman Empire’s Golden Milestone.  It was as an idea that had been under consideration for a while.  The temporary marker was dedicated during ceremonies launching the U.S. Army’s first attempt to send a convoy of military vehicles across the country to the West Coast.  On June 5th of the following year, a permanent marker was authorized.  The newly-founded Lee Highway Association, which consisted of representatives of all the states through which the country’s first coast-to-coast highway would pass, subsequently presented the granite block, named “The Zero Milestone,” as a gift to the city on June 4, 1923.

It was planned that The Zero Milestone, which stands on the north and south meridian of D.C., would serve as the location from which all road distances in the United States would be calculated.  However, people in other areas of the country, particularly the west coast, didn’t like the idea that their highway and road markers would begin with high numbers based on their distance from The Zero Milestone.  For example, highway mile markers in California would begin with the lowest numbers already in the 3000’s.  So, based on vehement opposition, the original plan was abandoned.  The cancellation of the plan also symbolically sent a message to politicians in the Nation’s Capital that, despite what they may think, D.C. is not the center of the universe, or even country.  Today the Zero Milestone only anchors roads distances within D.C., and is symbolically the official starting point for the measurement of distances from the city.

The four-sided monument has inscriptions on each side, which read:  (North side) “Zero Milestone”;  (East)  “Starting Point Of Second Transcontinental Motor Convoy Over The Bankhead Highway, June 14, 1920”; (South) “Point For The Measurement Of Distances From Washington On Highways Of The United States,” and; (West) “Starting Point Of First Transcontinental Motor Convoy Over The Lincoln Highway, July 7, 1919.”

Throughout the city, there is historical significance all around you if you know where to look for it.  And now, if you find yourself on the sidewalk of The Ellipse, you’ll know at least one place to find it.