Posts Tagged ‘The Washington Monument’

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German-American Friendship Garden

The German-American Friendship Garden, where I went on this lunchtime bike ride, is located on a direct line of sight between the White House and The Washington Monument on the National Mall, at 1600 Constitution Avenue (MAP) between 15th and 17th Streets in northwest D.C. The ornamental garden’s design, developed by landscape architect Wolfgang Oehme, features plants indigenous to both Germany and the United States, and contains benches on which visitors can rest while enjoying the gardens.

The garden was commissioned in 1982 after a visit to D.C. by German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. After the Chancellor’s visit, President Ronald Reagan created a Presidential commission to design and construct a garden to commemorate the tricentennial anniversary of the first German immigration to America, and celebrate 300 years of friendship between the United States and Germany. Later, the garden was dedicated at a ceremony in November of 1988, which was attended by both President Reagan and Chancellor Kohl during their last meeting together.

During his speech at the dedication ceremony President Reagan stated, “In a few months, I’ll be leaving the White House, but the garden, and all it represents, will remain, to be nurtured and sustained by the friendship between Germans and Americans.” Chancellor Kohl agreed in his response, calling the garden a symbol “of friendship and of solidarity which will have validity for the future.”

Eventually, the garden was in need of extensive restoration, so in 2013 an initiative was jointly launched by the German Embassy, the National Park Service, and the Association of German-American Societies of Greater Washington D.C.  Subsequently, new flower beds and other native plants were planted and revitalized in the fall of that year.  A new irrigation system was also installed, and the central square panel of the garden’s plaza was restored in keeping with Oehme’s original design.

The garden has been the site of annual celebrations on German-American Day, a holiday in the United States which began in 1883. The custom, observed each year on October 6th, died out during World War I as a result of the anti-German sentiment that prevailed at the time, but was revived during Reagan’s presidency in 1983 on the 100th anniversary of the first celebration.

Today, the German-American Friendship Garden’s ideal location in one of the city’s most well-travelled tourist areas provides it with an estimated seven million visitors passing by each year.  Unfortunately, most overlook the garden as they walk by it on their way to another destination.  So my recommendation is to make the garden a specific  destination so you don’t also miss out on all that it has to offer.

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

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The Jefferson Pier

When tourists on the grounds of The Washington Monument gaze up at the tribute to our nation’s first President, they seldom are aware of the other, smaller but similarly-shaped stone monument that is also located there on the same grounds, in the shadows of the 555-foot obelisk that towers over the National Mall.  Or if they do happen to notice it, they have no idea what it is.  It is called the Jefferson Pier, and it is only 391 feet on a northwest diagonal from the center of the Washington Monument. However, it pre-dates the Washington Monument. In fact, the original stone monument served as a marker, aiding surveyors and serving as a benchmark during construction of the monument.

On December 18th, 1804, a simple granite obelisk was erected at the intersection of lines from the front doors of the White House, known at that time as the Executive Mansion, and the U.S. Capitol Building. That intersection is etched on the top of the stone marker. The stone was located along 16th Street, almost due south of the center of the White House, due west of the center of the Capitol building, and due north of the center of the Jefferson Memorial (MAP). It was intended as part of a meridian system used to align city streets and in the development of the young nation’s new capital.  It was also the destination for this lunchtime bike ride.

President Thomas Jefferson wished for the new national capital to be a new “first meridian,” the longitude (0′ 0″) from which distance and time would be measured. But the 16th Street meridian never became the official prime meridian. Instead, a meridian on 24th Street did.  Then in 1884, the world recognized the longitude of Greenwich, England as the prime meridian, and it remains so today.

To understand how the meridian stone came to be known as “The Jefferson Pier” it is necessary to first understand that the geography of the city was originally much different than it is now. Tiber Creek flowed through that area of the city, and the entire Mall area west of where the Washington Monument is now located was under water. Tiber Creek, along with several other small streams, were eventually transformed into the Washington City Canal, a system that connected the Washington Waterfront, the Capitol Building, the White House and other areas downtown with The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and Towpath‘s first lock in Georgetown during the mid to late 1800’s. Boats and barges navigating the Washington City Canal via the C&O Canal and the Potomac River routinely used the meridian stone marker as an anchoring post. Although it was never officially designated so, the name used by boat captains and others stuck, and the prime meridian marker they used as an anchoring post for their boats came to be referred to as the Jefferson Pier.

The original stone marker was destroyed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1874. But the spot was recovered and a replacement marker was erected December 21, 1889. This is the stone that remains today. The stone reads, “Position of Jefferson Pier Erected Dec. 18, 1804. Recovered and Re-Erected Dec. 2, 1889. District Of Columbia.” A line has also been etched out on the face of the stone to indicate where the shoreline of the Potomac River once reached the Pier Stone.

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

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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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The Washington Monument

I most often tend to ride to and then write about the D.C. area’s lesser-known, off-the-beaten-path monuments, memorials and other attractions. But for this lunch time bike ride I chose to do the opposite. I visited one of the most well known and widely recognized monuments in not only D.C., but the entire world – the 555-foot and 5-inch obelisk known as The Washington Monument. But what I find most interesting about the monument are details about it that are not well-known. Not only did the simplistic appearance of the monument turn out significantly different than what was originally envisioned, it is not located in the place where it was originally intended. And it isn’t even the first Washington Monument in D.C.

Just days after Washington’s death in 1799, a Congressional committee proposed that a pyramid-shaped mausoleum be erected within the Capitol which would also serve as a monument to the nation’s first president. However, a lack of funds, disagreement over what type of memorial would best honor him, and the Washington family’s reluctance to move his body from his Mount Vernon home prevented progress on the proposed project.

Years later, on the 100th anniversary of President Washington’s 1732 birthday, the Washington National Monument Society was formed by former President James Madison and then current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Marshall, and began accepting donations to build a monument. Four years later, a renewed interest in construction a monument resulted in a design competition being held by the Society. The winning design came from architect Robert Mills, who also designed a number of Federal buildings in D.C., including the Department of Treasury building, the U.S. Patent Office Building, and the old General Post Office. Mills’ design featured a flat topped obelisk topped, with a statue depicting a Roman-like Washington in a chariot in front of it, along with a rotunda and colonnade, all surrounded by 30 statues depicting the country’s Founding Fathers and Revolutionary War heroes. Excavation and initial construction of the monument began on July 4, 1848.

However, a lack of funding resulted in the need to redesign the monument. In 1876 the current obelisk design was proposed. It was also during that year that President Ulysses S. Grant signed a bill for the Federal government to fund completion of the monument, which had been stalled by the Civil War. The monument’s construction took place during two phases, from 1848 to 1856, and from 1876 to 1884. A horizontal line of different colored marble from Massachusetts which was used when marble from the original quarry in Maryland was not available is visible approximately 150 feet up the monument, and indicates where construction resumed in 1876.  There is actually a third, less-noticible shade of marble that was used when the builders, dissatisfied with the Massachusetts marble, switched to another quarry in Maryland for the final marble used in the monument.  Thus, there are actually three shades to the exterior of the monument.

In addition to a change in design, a change in location also occurred. Originally, Pierre Charles L’Enfant, the city’s architect, had planned for the memorial to be placed due south of the President’s Mansion (now known as the White House), and directly West of the Capital Building. However, the soil at that spot proved too unstable to provide the necessary support for the massive obelisk that had been proposed. So the planned site was moved. The present day monument is 119 meters southwest of the planned site, which is marked by a stone and plaque called the Jefferson Pier.

Delays in construction of the Washington Monument were due to the halting of construction between 1854 and 1877 due to a lack of funds, infighting within the Washington National Monument Society, and the intervention of the American Civil War. It was finally completed in 1888 after more than 40 years of construction, which had begun in 1848. During the interim, however, a comparatively modest monument in the form of an equestrian statue depicting Washington riding his horse during the Battle of Princeton was constructed.  Now known as The Lieutenant General George Washington Statue, it was completed in 1860, more than a quarter of a century before the completion of the more well-known monument.

Located at 2 15th Street (MAP) near Madison Drive in downtown D.C., there are many other details and things you may not know about the monument that has become a centerpiece of the National Mall. For example, it held the title as the tallest structure in the world at the time it was completed. It lost that title in 1889 with the completion of the Eiffel Tower. However, the Washington Monument remains the world’s tallest stone structure as well as the world’s tallest obelisk. The monument stands as the tallest structure in D.C., and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future because, by law, no other building in the national capitol city is allowed to be taller than Washington Monument.

Some other interesting facts about the Washington Monument include the following.  The Masonic gavel previously used by George Washington in the laying of the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol Building in 1793 was also used in the Washington Monument’s 1848 cornerstone ceremony, that had an eclectic guest list which included three future presidents, James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, as well as Dolley Madison and Alexander Hamilton’s widow, Betsey Hamilton and, of course, the then-current President, James K. Polk. Also, there are numerous items and copies of important documents contained in a zinc case in the recess of the monument’s time capsule-like cornerstone, including: the Holy Bible; copies of the Constitution of the United States Declaration of Independence; a portrait of Washington; a map of the city as it was at that time; the 1840 United States Census; all national coins then in circulation including the $10 gold eagle; an American flag; the Washington family coat of arms, and; newspapers from 14 states.

Additionally, the obelisk rests on an artificially constructed knoll that was designed to hide the original foundation. The monument is hollow on the inside, but its inner walls are set with 189 carved memorial stones, which were donated by individuals, cities, states, Native American tribes, companies, foreign countries, and even the pope. There are 897 steps in the staircase that leads to the top of the monument. The walls at the monument’s base are 15 feet thick. The Monument’s 36,491 white marble ashlar blocks, weighing a total of 90,854 tons, are held together by just gravity and friction, and no mortar was used in the process. And lastly, there are lightning rods at the top to protect the structure from lightning strikes, as well as eight synchronized blinking red lights, two on each face, which serve as warning lights to keep aircraft from striking the structure.

So now that you know a little more about the monument that is not quite as simple as it initially appears, I recommend you go see the Washington Monument for yourself.  Whether it is your first time or you have seen the monument before, you may find that you have a new appreciation for it.

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'Twas the Last Ride Before Christmas

‘Twas the Last Ride Before Christmas

I’m going to be taking some time off from work for the holidays, so this was my last D.C. bike ride for the year for this blog. I’m actually taking the next few weeks off because, as a Federal employee, if I do not use a specified amount of my accrued vacation time before the end of the year the government will take it away. But for this ride, I commuted to the office anyway. I then got on one of my bikes that I keep in the parking garage of the office building where I work, and spent the entire day just riding around the D.C. area to see and enjoy the Christmas decorations and holiday spirit, which can be found almost everywhere.  It was a great ride to end the year.

As I’ve stated previously in this blog, I am not a photographer. I’m just a guy that goes for bike rides on my lunch break at work, and takes a few snapshots of the places I go to and the things I see along the way. On this ride I took more photos than usual. My favorite photo (above) from this leisurely bike ride is the one of a Christmas tree and holiday wreath left at The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, with the image of both my bike and The Washington Monument reflecting off the polished granite panels containing the names of the servicemen and women who were killed or classified as missing in action during the Vietnam War. The photo seems to portray at the same time both the joy of the season as well as the solemnity of the memorial.

Some of the other photos (below) which I’ve included with this blog post show several of the places which I have already visited this year and then wrote about in this blog, as well as some other places I intend to visit again and learn more about in the coming year.  You can click on the thumbnails for full-size photos.

In order, these photos show: (1) Giant wreathes hanging at the front of Union Station in D.C., one of the busiest train stations in the country. You can get a sense of the size of the wreathes by comparing them to the size of the people standing beneath them. (2) Toy soldiers standing guard at the entrance to the Old Ebbit Grill on 15th Street, D.C.’s oldest bar and restaurant. (3) Holiday wreathes on the old Sun Trust Building on 15th Street, across the street from the U.S. Treasury Department Building. (4) Holiday garlands, wreathes and bows adorning the entrance to The Historic Willard Hotel. (5) The D.C. Fire Department’s Truck No. 3 Fire Station on 13th Street in northwest D.C., which is decorated and lit up with Christmas lights. (6) The Vietnam Women’s Memorial is one of the memorials where wreathes are laid by Wreathes Across America, the group that supplies the Christmas wreathes at Arlington National Cemetery. (7) The Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, with a tomb guard in the foreground “walking the mat.” The wreathes in front of the sarcophagus and graves are also part of the tribute at the cemetery by Wreathes Across America. (8) Some of the more than 230,000 wreathes at Arlington National Cemetery which adorn the rows of white marble headstones. (9) Wreathes were also placed by Wreathes Across America at gravesites at The John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame. (10) The Woodrow Wilson House, the home of the only President to remain in D.C. after leaving office, is also decorated for the holidays. (11) One of the several outdoor holiday markets that spring up throughout the city in the time leading up to Christmas. This one is The Downtown Holiday Market, which is currently in its 11th year.  (12)  If you’re fortunate, you can also happen upon live musiccal performances.  This one was taking place on the sidewalk in front of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery between 7th and 9th Streets in the city’s Chinatown neighborhood.  (13) The Krispy Kreme doughnut shop across from The Fountain at DuPont Circle is an excellent place to stop for an early morning snack when riding around the city to see the holiday decorations, especially when the “Hot Now” neon light is lit up.  And even they decorated for the season. (14) An outdoor craft show and flea market on Capitol Hill. (15) A Christmas tree stand at Eastern Market selling fresh-cut Christmas trees. (16) The White House gates included decorative bows for the holidays. (17) The National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse at President’s Park just south of the White House. (18) The Capitol Christmas Tree on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building grounds. (19) Festively decorated Christmas trees, like this one, could be seen in the windows of stores and office buildings on almost every block.  (20) And the final photo is of a bike-themed ornament that I saw on the Capitol Christmas Tree, which seemed too relevant to not be included in this blog post.

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all of you reading this, whether you are here in D.C. and anywhere else around the world, a very Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year.

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The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall

On this day in 1957, U.S. military personnel suffered their first casualties of the Vietnam War when 13 Americans were wounded in three terrorist bombings of Military Assistance Advisory Group and U.S. Information Service installations in Saigon. The rising tide of guerrilla activity in South Vietnam reached an estimated 30 terrorist incidents by the end of the year and at least 75 local officials were assassinated or kidnapped in the last quarter of 1957. Unfortunately, this was just the beginning for the U.S. By the end of the war in 1975, estimates for the total U.S. casualties during the Vietnam War are 58,286 killed in action or non-combat deaths (including the missing and deaths in captivity), 153,303 wounded in action, and 1,645 missing in action.

In addition to U.S. casualties, estimates place the number of deaths for the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the Viet Cong at 1.1 million, while 220,357 were killed in action from the Republic of Vietnam. It is also estimated that 4,407 from the Republic of Korea, 487 from Australia. 351 from Thailand, 37 New Zealanders, and 30,000 Laotian Meo/Hmong were killed.  Additionally, estimates place the number of civilian deaths between 195,000-430,000 in South Vietnam, and 50,000-65,000 in North Vietnam.

In remembrance of the events of this day and in honor of those who served and sacrificed, on this lunchtime bike ride I rode to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. Located in Constitution Gardens adjacent to the National Mall, just northeast of the Lincoln Memorial (MAP), the Memorial Wall is the best-known part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial complex, which also includes The Three Soldiers Statue and The Vietnam Women’s Memorial.

The Memorial Wall is comprised of two gabbro walls which total 246 feet 9 inches in length. The walls are sunk into the ground, with the earth behind them.  At the apex where they meet which is the highest point, they are 10.1 feet high. They taper to a height of only 8 inches at either end. One wall points toward The Washington Monument, the other in the direction of the Lincoln Memorial, and they meet in the middle. Each wall has 72 inscribed panels, with the two very small blank panels at the extremities remaining blank.

Inscribed on the panels are the names of servicemen who were either confirmed to be killed in action or remained classified as missing in action when the walls were constructed. The 58,272 names, which includes 8 women, are listed in chronological order. The names include approximately 1,200 who are listed as missing. The names of the missing are denoted with a cross. If they return alive, although this has thus far never occurred, the cross would be circumscribed by a circle. If their death is confirmed, a diamond will be superimposed over the cross.

The wall is made from highly reflective stone so that when a visitor looks upon it, his or her reflection can be seen simultaneously with the engraved names. This is meant to symbolically bring the past and present together. However, if you are unable to experience and see the Wall in person, there is a half size replica called The Moving Wall, which periodically visit hundreds of small towns and cities throughout the country from April through November, spending five or six days at each site. Veterans groups have subsequently created additional traveling replicas, which include The Traveling Wall created by the American Veterans Traveling Tribute, The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall by Vietnam and All Veterans of Brevard, Inc, and The Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall by Dignity Memorial. Fixed replicas have also been built in Wildwood, New Jersey and Winfield, Kansas.

There are also other resources and virtual versions of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall that can be found online, including The Virtual Wall Vietnam Veterans Memorial , The Wall of Faces  and The Wall – USA.  These sites are intended to “bring the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to your home to help remember the sacrifices of the fallen and their families.” 

So take a few minutes to visit D.C.’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, or one of the travelling or virtual walls, and remember the 58,272 individuals who are honored, including the ten different people on the wall who were killed on this day during the war.  They are John Dominick Arquillo (age 21), William Olen Austin (19), John Thomas Baker (20), Alexander Beard (28), John David Belles (20), Guy Lester Bellew (35), Gary Lee Binder (20), Murray Lyman Borden (25), Robert White Boyd (23), and John Wesley Brooks (19).

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

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.

The Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial

Even if you have never been able to visit the Lincoln Memorial in person, you have most likely seen it many times. An image of the monument to the 16th President is on United States currency, appearing on both the back of the five dollar bill and the reverse side of all pennies minted prior to 2009.  With five dollars and one cent in my pocket on this ride, I rode to the Lincoln Memorial, located at the west end of the National Mall (MAP), across from The Washington Monument.

The Lincoln Memorial was designed by architect Henry Bacon after ancient Greek temples, and stands 190 feet long, is 119 feet wide and almost 100 feet high, with a cement foundation that is 60 feet deep. It is surrounded by 36 enormous columns, one for each of the states in the Union at the time of Lincoln’s death.  By the time the monument was completed, the Union had increased by 12 more states, so the names of all 48 states were carved on the outside of the walls of the memorial. Following the admission of Alaska and Hawaii as states, a plaque with the names of these new states was added.  The statue of the President, which was sculpted by Daniel Chester French, is 19 feet high and weighs 175 tons. The original plan was for the statue to be only ten feet high, but this was changed so that the figure of Lincoln would not be dwarfed by the size of the chamber in which it sits.  The north and south side chambers contain inscriptions of two well-known speeches by President Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address and his second presidential inauguration address in 1865, the latter of which contains a fairly well-known mistake.

Roughly two years following Lincoln’s death in 1865, the U.S. Congress appointed the Lincoln Monument Association to build a memorial to commemorate the assassinated President.  However, the site for the memorial was not chosen until 1901.  Another decade later, President William Howard Taft signed a bill to provide funding for the memorial, and construction began the following month, on February 12th, to commemorate Lincoln’s 102nd birthday.  The Presidential memorial was finally completed and opened to the public in 1922.  On May 30, 1922, Former President and then Supreme Court Chief Justice William Howard Taft and Robert Todd Lincoln, the only surviving child of Lincoln’s four children, lead the monument’s dedication ceremony.

Over the years, the Lincoln Memorial has been the site of a number of famous events, including protests, concerts and speeches.  Perhaps the most famous of which occurred on August 28, 1963.  The Memorial’s grounds were the site of the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” which proved to be a high point of the American Civil Rights Movement.  It is estimated that over a quarter of a million people participated in the event.  It was then that Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the memorial.  The location where King delivered the speech is commemorated with an inscription carved into the steps.

Today, the Lincoln Memorial receives almost four million visitors per year.  Admission is free, and it is open to the public 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – except Christmas Day.  The memorial is administered by the National Park Service, and provides Park Service rangers on site from 9:30 am until 11:30 pm each day it is open to address questions about the Memorial.

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Site of World's First Air Mail Service

Site of World’s First Air Mail Service

A short bike ride from downtown D.C., located just off the Rock Creek Park Trail that parallels the water along the north bank of the Potomac River in West Potomac Park, and near Ohio and West Basin Drives (MAP) in Southwest D.C., I discovered a stone with a brass plaque marker.  After reading the plaque, I learned that the marker was placed there by The Aero Club of Washington, commemorating the first air mail flight to be operated as a continuously scheduled public service.  The air mail service planes used the nearby field just south of The Washington Monument near the National Mall to take off and land.

Following 52 experimental flights by the Post Office Department in 1911 and 1912, the first extended test of airmail service began on May 15, 1918, when the U.S. Army and the Post Office Department together began operating a line using U.S Army training plains, known as “Jenny” biplanes.  The planes were flown by Army pilots operating on a route between the old Washington Polo Grounds near the marker, and Belmont Park in New York City, with an intermediate stop at Bustleton Field in Philadelphia.  Included in those who were on hand for the departure of the first flight were President Woodrow Wilson, U.S. Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson, and Assistant Secretary of the Navy and future president, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

An Army lieutenant named George L. Boyle was selected to pilot the aircraft on the first flight.  Unfortunately, that flight turned out to be a somewhat less than successful initial venture, and perhaps an omen of the Postal Service’s future level of quality and service.  Boyle became disoriented almost immediately after take off, and started flying in the wrong direction.  Upon realizing that he was lost, Boyle attempted to find out where he was by making an unscheduled landing in nearby Waldorf, Maryland.  However, he broke the prop on his airplane when he made a hard landing, and the mail he was carrying had to be trucked back to D.C.   The mail was flown to Philadelphia and New York the next day but, of course, arrived late.

The plaque on the marker does not make mention of this ignominious beginning.  It reads:  “Air Mail. The world’s first airplane mail to be operated as a continuously scheduled public service started from this field May 15, 1918.  The route connected Washington, Philadelphia and New York, CurtisJN 4-H airplanes with a capacity of 150 pounds of mail flew the 230 miles in above three hours.  The service was inaugurated by the Post Office Department in cooperation with the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps of the U.S. Army.  On August 12, 1918, the service was taken over in its entirety by the Post Office Department.  This marker was erected by The Aero Club of Washington on the fortieth anniversary.  May 15, 1958.”

Less than twenty years later, in October of 1975, Air Mail as a separate class of service was effectively ended within the U.S. when all domestic intercity First Class mail began to be transported by air at the normal First Class rate, and was formally eliminated by the successor to the Post Office Department, the United States Postal Service.

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Constitution Gardens

Constitution Gardens

Mostly unknown and overlooked by the millions of tourists visiting the many other nearby memorials on the National Mall, Constitution Gardens occupies 50 prime acres of landscaped grounds approximately halfway between The Washington Monument and The Lincoln Memorial, and includes a lake with an island, winding sidewalks and pathways lined with benches,  and approximately 5,000 oak, maple, dogwood, elm and crabapple trees.  Located to the west of 17th Street and south of Constitution Avenue in northwest D.C. (MAP), the gardens are bordered on the west by The Vietnam Veterans Memorial and on the south by The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.  But despite its central location on the National Mall, it is a quiet haven in the heart of the bustling capital city.  

The land that became Constitution Gardens was originally submerged beneath the Potomac River, but was dredged at the beginning of the 20th century by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  The land then became the location for the Navy’s main and munitions buildings until 1970 when President Richard Nixon, who had once who had served in the offices as a navy officer, ordered his former workplace to be torn down to make way for a park to be established on the land.  In 1976, Constitution Gardens was finally dedicated as part of America’s Bicentennial celebration as a “living legacy tribute.”  It has been a separate park unit in the National Park Service since 1982.

In contrast to its normally peaceful setting, Constitution Gardens became the site of a bizarre standoff between Federal law enforcement officers and a disgruntled tobacco farmer named Dwight Watson during two days in mid-March back in 2003.  Watson, a tobacco farmer from North Carolina, blamed Federal tobacco policies and the cutting of tobacco subsidies for the increasing difficulty he was experiencing in making a living on his rural tobacco farm, which had been in his family for five generations.  Wearing a military helmet and displaying an upside down American flag, the disgruntled farmer travelled to D.C. and drove his tractor into the center of the lake, claiming that he had explosives.  This prompted the evacuation of the area and holding a SWAT team composed of approximately 200 FBI Agents and Park Police officers at bay for 48 hours before he surrendered.  Watson was eventually convicted of destroying federal property for digging up part of the island and damaging a retaining wall during the standoff, but no other monuments or memorials were harmed.

The more often than not tranquil Constitution Gardens becomes uncharacteristically full of activity each year when it is the site of an annual naturalization ceremony for new U.S. citizens hosted by the National Park Service.  But on the day I rode there, it was just as I hoped it would be – virtually deserted, except for a family of geese and a few mallard ducks.

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