Posts Tagged ‘The New York Times’

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The Carousel on the National Mall

On August 28, 1963, during “the March on Washington,” Rev. Martin Luther’s King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  On that same day, just 45 miles away, the practice of segregation was discontinued at the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park just outside of Baltimore.  And an eleven-month-old baby named Sharon Langley was the first African American child to go on a ride there when, along with two white children, she rode on the park’s classic, old-time carousel.

The next day, “amid all the news stories about the March on Washington, there were also stories on Sharon Langley’s merry-go-round ride. Three kids – one black and two white – riding together provided an example of the harmony King spoke about at the march, when he hoped that one day black children and white children would regard each other as “sisters and brothers.”

On today’s lunchtime bike ride I went see that carousel.  But I didn’t have to ride all the way to Baltimore to do so.  Today that very same carousel is here in D.C., on the National Mall (MAP) in front of the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building, where young children enjoy themselves while their parents watch them ride the seemingly benign carousel, unaware that it has a rich history which is much more interesting than its appearance would suggest.

On April 12, 1967, the Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley opened the carousel on the National Mall.  The original carousel was built in 1922 by the Allan Herschell Company, and was accompanied by a 153 Wurlitzer Band Organ.  At that time, rides cost 25 cents.  However, not everyone was happy to see a carousel placed on “America’s front yard.”  Some were concerned that that the carousel, along with the  popcorn wagons and some outdoor puppet and musical performances that were already there at the time, would lead to the Smithsonian developing into what the New York Times termed “an ivy-covered Disneyland.”   But that never happened, and the carousel remains to this day.

Today’s carousel is not the original, though.  Due to wear and tear the original carousel was replaced in 1981 with the carousel from the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park, which was forced to close in 1973 after suffering severe damage from flooding when Hurricane Agnes.  The Gwynn Oak carousel is 10 feet larger in diameter and has 60 brightly-painted horses, as opposed to the former which had 33.  It also has a few non-moving seats, and one sea dragon.  And riding on the carousel is not limited to children.  All are welcome, including adults, as long as you’re willing to pay the current ticket price of $3.50.

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

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Kilroy Was Here

Graffiti is defined as “writings or drawings that have been scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface, often in a public place.”  It goes back to ancient times and has been found in the ruins of Pompeii, in the Catacombs of Rome, and on walls in ancient Egypt.  In is usually considered to be defacement and vandalism, and is often a crime.

However, some graffiti rises above the rest in its aesthetic quality, the message it conveys or other unique characteristics, leading it to gain public acceptance. The graffito commonly known as “Kilroy Was Here” is an example of this. In fact, it gained such acceptance and popularity that it is the only example of graffiti which has been officially memorialized in one of D.C.’s national monuments or memorials. And it was this memorialized graffiti that was the destination for this lunchtime bike ride.

There are two examples of “Kilroy Was Here” on the outside of The National World War II Memorial, which is located on the National Mall between The Lincoln Memorial and The Washington Monument in Downtown D.C. However, most people do not know of the graffiti’s existence or location, which makes it all the more interesting to me. So while I was visiting the memorial, I watched as hundreds of visitors mulled around the arches and state pillars which are arranged around the granite memorial’s grand plaza and fountain, but not one person made their way to the back of the memorial behind the wall of stars. It is there, near the backs of the Pennsylvania and Delaware pillars, behind gold-toned gates, in grated areas designed for service and maintenance access, that the Kilroys reside.

The origin of Kilroy is open to discussion or argument, and much has been written about the beginning and proliferation of the now-famous cartoon depiction of a man with a bald head peering over a fence that hides everything except his eyes, his long U-shaped nose, and often his fingers gripping the top of the fence, accompanied by the proclamation, “Kilroy Was Here.” But perhaps the most credible story is the one which was detailed in a 1946 article in the New York Times.

As reported by The Times, an American shipyard inspector named James J. Kilroy was most likely the man behind the signature. As he inspected the riveting in newly constructed ships, he chalked the words on bulkheads to show that he had been there and performed his inspection. To the troops in those ships, however, it was a complete mystery. They didn’t know who Kilroy was or why he had marked their ships. All they knew about him was that he had “been there first.”  So as a joke, they began placing the graffiti wherever they and other U.S. forces went, then claiming it was already there when they arrived.  Kilroy became America’s super service member who always got there first. The tradition continued in every U.S. military theater of operations throughout World War II, and it became a challenge to place the logo in the most unlikely places.  The marking gained momentum throughout the war, and spread to the civilian population.  Following the war, both service members and civilians continued to scrawl versions of the graffito throughout the world.  But the mania had peaked during the war.  It lingered for a while, but the joke eventually died out as memories of the war faded.

Although Kilroy Was Here is quite possibly the most prolific and well-known graffito in history, it surpassed being relegated to the category of mere graffiti. Over the years he has become part of popular culture. Examples of Kilroy may be found in movies such as “Kelly’s Heroes” and “On Our Merry Way,” and in television shows like “M*A*S*H,” “Home Improvement” and “Seinfeld.” Kilroy has even been the subject of poems, novels, and songs. And there have reportedly been sightings of him on the Statue of Liberty, the Arch de Triomphe in Paris, the Marco Polo Bridge in China, huts in Polynesia, at the top of Mt. Everest, and scrawled in the dust on the moon.

Kilroy can be seen in thousands and thousands of places. However, he is apparently difficult to find at the National World War II Memorial. But now that you know how to track him down, I recommend that you make the effort to find him the next time you visit the memorial.

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Gravesite of Leonard Matlovich

Gravesite of Leonard Matlovich

On this bike ride I stopped by the gravesite of Sergeant Leonard Matlovich.  A vietnam era veteran, Matlovich was eligible to be buried in the cemetery most people identify with veterans, Arlington National Cemetery.  But he chose Historic Congressional Cemetery instead.  Located at 1801 E Street (MAP) in Southeast D.C., he discovered the cemetery on one of his frequent walks near his then Capitol Hill home.

Sergeant Leonard Matlovich was the first gay service member to purposely out himself as a homosexual in an attempt to fight their ban on gays serving openly in the military.  He did so by hand-delivering a letter to his Langley Air Force Base commanding officer in March of 1975.  His challenge became public knowledge a couple of months later, on Memorial Day, through an article on the front page of The New York Times, and in a story that evening on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.  During his fight to stay in the military, his case became a cause célèbre within the gay community, and resulted in numerous articles in newspapers and magazines throughout the country, television interviews, and a made-for-television movie.  Matlovich also appeared in his Air Force uniform on the cover of Time magazine above the headline “I Am a Homosexual.”

Despite his exemplary military record, tours of duty in Vietnam, and high performance evaluations, Matlovich was subsequently given a “General,” or Less than Honorable, discharge in 1975 by the U.S. Air Force.  He continued his fight after being separated and won a much-publicized case against the Air Force in 1979, which ordered him reinstated into the Air Force and promoted. The Air Force offered Matlovich a financial settlement instead, which he accepted, and his discharge was upgraded to “Honorable.”

After being discharged, he moved from Virginia to D.C., then to San Francisco, and then Guerneville, California. After then moving to Europe for a few months, he returned briefly to D.C., before moving back to San Francisco again.  He remained active in the gay rights movement throughout the rest of his life.  On June 22, 1988, less than a month before his 45th birthday, Matlovich died in Los Angeles of complications from HIV/AIDS.

Matlovich personally designed his internationally known tombstone, incorporating the same kind of reflective black granite that was used in the construction of The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.  It is inset with his famous quote, which reads, “When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”  The headstone also incorporates pink triangles in reference to the emblem used to mark gays in Nazi concentration camps.  What the headstone does not include, however, is his name.  That is because he meant to be a memorial to all gay veterans.  His last name inscribed at the foot of a granite grave border is the only indication that the grave is his.

Matlovich chose historic Congressional Cemetery because he loved its variety of individual stones versus Arlington’s hundreds of thousands of identical markers. He also was amazed to learn that Peter Doyle, Walt Whitman’s great love, is buried there.  He also couldn’t resist the last laugh of being buried in the same row with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s gravesite, and Hoover’s associate director, longtime best friend, heir, and some believe romantic partner Clyde Tolson.  Hoover was staunchly anti-gay, although speculation and rumors had circulated beginning approximately 30 years before his death that Hoover was homosexual.  Tolson’s grave, marked by a pink granite stone, is just five plots to the right of Matlovich’s, and the Hoover family plot is a few yards further down.

In a tribute no one anticipated, a growing number of other out gays, including veterans and couples, have since chosen to be buried in the same once obscure graveyard such as gay rights pioneers Randy Wicker, Barbara Gittings and Kay Lahusen, and others.  Members of American Veterans for Equal Rights have purchased eight nearby adjoining plots to create a LGBT veterans memorial. And at his graveside every Veterans Day, there’s a gay veterans memorial service.  His gravesite has also been the scene of protests, vigils and ceremonies for LGBT rights activists, and even a same-sex wedding.

His gravesite and the surrounding vicinity within the cemetery, and the activities that have taken place there, would certainly be pleasing to Matlovich, who once said, “I believe that we must be the same activists in our deaths that we were in our lives.”

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