Posts Tagged ‘the National Mall’

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The Freedom Bell

The Liberty Bell, one of the most iconic symbols of American independence, sits behind glass in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, approximately 137 miles up Interstate 95, north of D.C.  And on this lunchtime bike ride just before the Independence Day holiday weekend, I did not ride to Philadelphia to see it.  However, D.C., has a replica of the Liberty Bell.  It is named the Freedom Bell, and is located on Massachusetts Avenue near First Street, at Columbus Circle next to the massive Columbus Fountain on the plaza in front of Union Station (MAP).  And it was the Freedom Bell here in D.C. that was the destination of this ride.

The Freedom Bell was a gift to the United States, in celebration of the country’s Bicentential, from the American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary. The bell weighs eight tons, and is twice the size of its more famous counterpart. The bell was cast in 1975, but had to be cast outside of the U.S. because no foundry had the capacity to cast it. So the Freedom Bell was cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London, the same foundry that cast the Liberty Bell in 1752. The iron work was then completed by Fred S. Gichner Iron Works of nearby Beltsville, Maryland. Jack Patrick served as associate architect, and Allen J. Wright Associates created the post and beam support for the bell.

After the bell was completed and shipped to America, it then traveled to all 48 contiguous states aboard the American Freedom Train for the Bicentennial, starting on April 1, 1975 in Wilmington, Deleware, and ending on December 31, 1976, in Miami, Florida. The bell shared a train car with a map of the American Freedom Train’s journey and a lunar rover.

After the conclusion of the Bicentennial year celebrations, the bell was placed in storage by the National Park Service. Eventually, lengthy discussions led to an agreement that the bell would be placed at its current location in front of Union Station, which was done in 1981.  The American Legion, however, was unhappy with the bell’s placement, because they had hoped that it would be placed somewhere on the National Mall.

Today, even though the Freedom Bell sits in front of the extraordinarily busy Union Station, most passers-by are oblivious to its existence as they hustle past it to their trains.  So, maybe the American Legion was right.

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[Click on the thumbnail above to view the full size photo]

The plaque that rests on the ground in front of the bell reads: “The Freedom Bell, Dedicated to The Spirit of the Bicentennial on Behalf of The Children of Our Nation, Given By The American Legion And American Legion Auxiliary, 1981.”

B Street

B Street

During a portion of this two-wheeled outing I rode up and down Constitution Avenue, which is a major east-west street located on the north side of the National Mall, running parallel to Independence Avenue on the Mall’s south side. Constitution Avenue spans the northwest and northeast quadrants of D.C., with its western half extending from the U.S. Capitol Building to the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge. Its eastern half continues through the neighborhoods of Capitol Hill and Kingman Park before it eventually terminates at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.

Constitution Avenue was not always known by its current name, however. And had it not been for a traffic jam, it might still be known today by the name it had under the structured naming convention of the city’s original architectural plan developed by Pierre Charles L’Enfant. That name was B Street.

Back in November of 1921, President Warren G. Harding was travelling to the dedication ceremony for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery when he was caught in a three-hour traffic jam which resulted from the inability of the existing bridges at the time to handle traffic. Resolving to prevent that from happening again, President Harding sought an appropriation to fund the work to design and build a more adequate bridge. Congress subsequently approved his request in June of the following year, which would eventually result in the construction of Arlington Memorial Bridge.

However, B Street was a smaller, narrower street at the time, and extensive widening and reconstruction was needed to accommodate the traffic. Eventually, after years of planning, the vision for B Street had expanded for it to be a ceremonial gateway into the national capitol city from the magnificent new bridge, as well as one of the city’s great parade avenues, similar to Pennsylvania Avenue. And as the nature of the B Street project became apparent, there were calls to rename the street. But nothing is ever easy in D.C., and renaming B Street was no different.

In early 1930, legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives to rename the street L’Enfant Avenue. City officials opposed the name, however, advocating instead for Lincoln or Washington Avenue. Congressman Henry Allen Cooper then introduced legislation to rename the street Constitution Avenue. The proposal met with strong support from city officials, but was rejected by the House of Representatives. The bill was resubmitted the following year. During discussion on the floor of the Senate, it was suggested that the street be named Jefferson Avenue in honor of President Thomas Jefferson. Representative Cooper opined that the name Constitution Avenue in a way paid tribute to our third President as the author of the Constitution, and that a national presidential memorial to President Jefferson should be built.  By the end of the decade, President Franklin D. Roosevelt laid the cornerstone of The Thomas Jefferson Memorial. This time the legislation renaming B Street passed both the House and Senate before being signed into law by President Herbert Hoover in February of 1931, and it has been known as Constitution Avenue ever since.

The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool

The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool

On this ride I went by the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, located on the National Mall directly east of the Lincoln Memorial (MAP), with The Washington Monument to the east of the reflecting pool.  It is lined by walking paths and shade trees on both sides.  Depending on the viewer’s vantage point, it dramatically reflects the Lincoln Memorial, as well as the Washington Monument, the Mall’s trees, and the expansive sky above D.C.

The Reflecting Pool was designed by American architect Henry Bacon, who also designed The Lincoln Memorial.  It was constructed beginning in 1922, following the dedication of the President Lincoln’s Memorial, and completed the following year.  At over a third of a mile long and 167 feet wide, with a a depth of approximately 18 inches on the sides and 30 inches in the center, the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool is the largest of the many reflecting pools in D.C.

A few years ago the National Park Service determined that the Reflecting Pool’s massive weight had begun to cause it to leak and sink, while the approximately 6,750,000 gallons of water in it had become stagnant.  As a result, it underwent an extensive rennovation.  The massive project , which was part of President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, shut down a large swath of the National Mall for almost two years as the old pool was removed and the new one constructed.  The Reflecting Pool reopened just before Labor Day in 2012.

The newly renovated landmark remains the largest in D.C., but is shallower than the original, measuring less than three feet at its deepest point.  This not only makes it lighter but saves water as well. Its bottom is tinted gray to make the water darker and more reflective.  And the new pool has been reengineered with a circulation and filtration system. So instead of continuing to use city water, it draws river water from the nearby Tidal Basin, conserving approximately 20 million gallons of drinking water each year.

As a result of the renovation project, the grounds also include new security features to prevent a vehicle from reaching the Lincoln Memorial for a potential terrorist attack, like the one which occurred in 2003 when an angry tobacco farmer from North Carolina named Dwight Ware Watson brought much of the nation’s capitol to a standstill for two days when he drove a tractor into the pond in the nearby Constitution Gardens area of the National Mall and claimed to have explosives.

When visiting the Reflecting Pool, one cannot help but reflect on the rich history of events that have taken place there.  Included in the long list of events are when singer Marian Anderson sang at an open air concert on Easter Sunday in 1939, because she had been denied permission to perform at D.C.’s Constitution Hall because she was African American.  On August 28, 1963, the Reflecting Pool was also the site of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered from the steps of the memorial to a crowd of 250,000 people during the Civil Rights Movement’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. And several protests against the Vietnam War took place in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s around the Reflection Pool, attracting hundreds of thousands of protestors.  These and many other events make the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool a site for reflection in more ways than one.

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The District of Columbia War Memorial

Tomorrow morning at approximately 10:45am marks exactly one century since Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie were shot to death by a 19-year old Bosnian Serb nationalist named Gavrilo Princip during an official visit to the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. The killings sparked a chain of events that by early August of that year led to the outbreak of World War I.  On June 28, 1919, five years to the day after Archduke Ferdinand’s death, Germany and the Allied Powers signed the Treaty of Versailles, officially marking the end of World War I.

The day before Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination, on June 27, 1914, who could have predicted that the next day’s actions of Gavrilo Princip would, over the next five years, lead to over 16 million additional deaths, including 499 citizens of D.C., who were 4,680 miles away at that time?

That’s the butterfly effect.  The butterfly effect is a term used in chaos theory to describe how small changes to a seemingly unrelated thing or condition (also known as an initial condition) can affect large, complex systems. The term comes from the suggestion that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in South America could affect the weather in Texas, meaning that the tiniest influence on one part of a system can have a huge effect on another part. Taken more broadly, the butterfly effect is a way of describing how, unless all factors can be accounted for, large systems like the weather remain impossible to predict with total accuracy because there are too many unknown variables to track.

So to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, I rode to the District of Columbia War Memorial, located at just of Independence Avenue on the National Mall near the Lincoln Memorial (MAP).  The memorial, which stands in West Potomac Park, is located in a grove of trees.  It is the only local District memorial on the National Mall.  The Memorial commemorates the citizens of the D.C. who served in what was then known as the Great War, or the World War.  Built prior to World War II, they did not contemplate at that time that there would be another world war necessitating the designation of that world war as the first one.  Inscribed on the base of the memorial are the names of the 499 D.C. citizens who lost their lives in the war.  Also preserved in a vault at the Memorial is a list of over 26,000 additional Washingtonians who served in the Great War.

What did you do today that, through a butterfly effect, may have an influence on the future?  What will that influence be, and will it be positive or negative?

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The John Ericsson National Memorial

When riding in  West Potomac Park  on the Rock Creek Park Trail which runs along the North shore of the Potomac River, you will find the John Ericsson National Memorial, which is located near the National Mall at Ohio Drive and Independence Avenue in southwest D.C. (MAP).

The memorial is dedicated to the Swedish-born engineer-inventor who is best known for his work during the Civil War when he transformed naval warfare through his design of the iron-plated USS Monitor, the ship that ensured Union naval supremacy. He also revolutionized maritime history with his invention of the screw propeller.  Later Ericsson designed other naval vessels and weapons, including a type of torpedo and a Destroyer, a torpedo boat that could fire a cannon from an underwater port.

The memorial was originally authorized by Congress in 1916, and was completed a decade later.  It was dedicated in 1926 by President Calvin Coolidge and Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden. Congress appropriated just over half the cost of creating  the memorial, with the remainder being raised privately by Americans chiefly of Scandinavian descent.

The memorial is constructed out of pink Milford granite, and measures 20 feet high with a 150-foot diameter base.  It features a seated figure of Ericsson in the front, and three standing figures behind him.  These figures represent adventure, labor, and vision.  It is maintained by the National Mall and Memorial Parks (also known as National Capital Parks-Central), which is an administrative unit of the National Park Service encompassing many national memorials and other areas in D.C.  The statue is part of a group of statues entitled “The Civil War Monuments in Washington, D.C.” which are spread out through much of the central and northwest areas of the city.  They are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

Although none of his inventions created any large industries, he is regarded as one of the most influential mechanical engineers ever. Ericsson died on March 8, 1889, the anniversary of the famous Battle of Hampton Roads of which his famous Monitor played a central role.

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