Posts Tagged ‘U.S. Capitol Building’

National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service

This week is National Police Week, which began yesterday and ends this Saturday.  And today is National Peace Officers Memorial Day.  In observance of the event, during my lunchtime outing I attended today’s National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service, which was held on the West Front of the United States Capitol Building (MAP).

Today’s memorial service, sponsored by the Grand Lodge Fraternal Order of Police and the Grand Lodge Fraternal Order of Police Auxiliary, was the 36th annual national service to honor law enforcement officers who were killed in the line of duty during the previous year.  Overall, 118 officers who died in 2016, and 66 were “victims of malicious attacks.” That represents an increase of almost 40 percent from the previous year.

As is traditional, President Donald Trump issued a proclamation to: designate May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day; to direct government officials to display the United States flag at half staff on all government buildings; and to invite state and local governments and the people to observe the day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.  The ceremony I attended at the Capitol Building began at 11:00am, and was attended for the very first time by both the President and the Vice President.

The activities began with a lining of the route by hundreds of various motorcycles officers from around the country as busload after busload of spouse and other family members of fallen officers proceeded down Independence Avenue and across the front of the Capitol Building along 3rd Street before entering onto the Capitol Grounds to attend the ceremony.

The highlight of the service for me was when President Trump spoke about Officer Ashley Guindon, a local police officer who was shot and killed in the line of duty last February on her very first day on the job, having been sworn in just the day before.  My youngest daughter and I went out to pay our respects and help line the route when she was killed.

Some of the other highlights for me of the service included the music.  The service opened with the singing of the Star Spangled Banner by a retired New York City Police Officer, and country music star Kellie Pickler also sang.  The rest of the service included addresses number of speakers, including President Trump, Vice President Pence, othrpoliticians, law enforcement officials, and clergy.  Finally, a Wreath Laying Ceremony at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial was held immediately following the memorial service.  The service and wreath laying were very moving and thought provoking, and served to remind us all of the service and sacrifice of those sworn to protect and serve.

         

         

         

         

         
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Sometimes it’s the little things and details that will catch my eye. Here’s one last photo from today’s National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service that I think is particularly poignant and provocative.  It’s of the wife of a fallen officer who was sitting in the grass and leaning back, and I think it hints that there is a very emotional story behind the image.

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The East Front of the United States Capitol Building

The United States Capitol Building is a world-renowned architectural icon and one of the most recognizable buildings in the world.  It is located at 100 Constitution Avenue (MAP) atop Capitol Hill at the eastern end of the National Mall. Though not at the geographic center of the Federal District, the Capitol forms the origin point for the District’s street-numbering system and the District’s four quadrants.  I’ve ridden both to it and past it hundreds, if not thousands of times, and on this lunchtime bike ride Julius and I rode there again.  And although I usually write in this blog about the lesser-known monuments and attractions in D.C., for this last lunchtime bike ride of the year before I take a little time off from work for the holidays, I time I decided to break from tradition and write about the Capitol.

It was Pierre Charles L’Enfant who chose the location within the new capital city for the building in which Congress could meet. Tasked with creating the city plan, he chose what was then known as “Jenkin’s Hill” as the site for the “Congress House”, with a “grand avenue” that would later be named Pennsylvania Avenue connecting it with the “President’s House”, and a public space stretching westward to the Potomac River. That public space is now known as the National Mall. However, in reviewing L’Enfant’s plan, Thomas Jefferson insisted the legislative building be called the “Capitol” rather than “Congress House”.

In the spring of 1792, Jefferson proposed a design competition to solicit designs for the Capitol and the President’s House.  A four-month deadline was set, with a prize of five hundred dollars and a lot of land in the new capital city to go to the winner.  Of the 17 submitted designs, all of them were turned down.  A Scottish doctor named and amateur architect named William Thornton submitted the design which was eventually chosen, although it came in after the deadline for the contest.  The following year Thornton was appointed to serve as the first Architect of the Capitol, a position that still exists today.

Thornton’s original design was later modified by the famous British-American architects Benjamin Henry Latrobe, Sr., and then Charles Bulfinch.  On September 18, 1793, first President George Washington, along with eight other Freemasons dressed in masonic regalia, laid the cornerstone for the new Capitol Building.  The original building was completed in 1800, and Congress met for the first time in the newly-created Capitol in November of that year, approximately 11 months after the death of George Washington.  Eventually, the current cast-iron dome was added.  A new southern extension for the House of Representatives and the Senate’s new northern wing, designed by Thomas U. Walter and August Schoenborn, were added in the 1850’s, giving us the building we see today.

Like the principal buildings of the executive and judicial branches, the Capitol is built in a distinctive neoclassical style and has a white exterior.  Both its east and west elevations are formally referred to as fronts.  However, the east side of the Capitol is the only one with level ground for a proper entrance, so it was intended for the reception of visitors and dignitaries.  This gives the appearance that the building faces away from the Mall instead of toward it, like most other important buildings and monuments.  But the Capitol and the statue on top face toward the east so that it faces toward the people who are entering it.

Books could be written about the complete history of the Capitol, its appearance, and other aspects of the building.  But rather than go into that kind of additional detail, I decided to simply provide some of the information I find most interesting about the  building that is the seat of the legislative branch of the Federal government and serves as a symbol of American democracy.

  • The Capitol covers well over 1.5 million square feet on five separate levels, has 540 rooms, contains approximately 850 doorways, and has 658 windows, with 108 of those windows in the dome alone.
  • The Dome is 8,909,200 pounds of cast-iron and was constructed between 1855 and 1866.
  • The The building covers a ground area of 175,170 square feet, or about 4 acres, and has a floor area of approximately 16-1/2 acres. Its length, from north to south, is 751 feet 4 inches; its greatest width, including approaches, is 350 feet.  Its height above the base line on the east front to the top of the Statue of Freedom is 288 feet.
  • There used to be a law that no building in the capital city could be taller than the Capitol.  But that law was short lived, and today it is only the fifth-tallest building in D.C.  The Capitol is shorter than the Washington Monument, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Old Post Office and the Washington National Cathedral.
  • The Capitol has its own subway, which has been there in some variation since 1909, and carries politicians from House and Senate office buildings to the Capitol.
  • There are marble bathtubs in the basement of the Capitol where members of Congress would take baths back in the 19th century.
  • The Capitol has its own crypt, which is located on the basement floor directly under the Rotunda. It is called that because President George Washington’s body was supposed to be entombed here. They even had holes dug for a viewing chamber where you could walk by and see him.  But Washington’s wishes were to be buried at his home on the Potomac River, Mount Vernon.
  • A bust of Abraham Lincoln located in the crypt and sculpted by Gutzon Borglum, has only one ear. The ear on the bust was originally supposed to face to the north because the sculptor believed Lincoln listened to Northern views and not those of the South. The ear now faces the South with its placement in the room.
  • Directly below the crypt there is a nuclear fallout shelter.
  • At any given time, several United States flags fly over the Capitol building and the flags have been flown continuously day and night since World War I.  Two flagpoles are located at the base of the Capitol Dome on both the East and the West sides.  Two other flagpoles are located above the North Wing (the Senate side) and the South Wing (the House side) and are flown only when the Congress is in session.  There are also several additional flagpoles located west of the Dome and are not visible from the ground, these flagpoles are used to meet the congressional requests for flags flown over the Capitol.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court also convened in the Capitol Building for 135 years, until moving into its own building in 1935.
  • There is a myth that the Capitol is haunted by an evil demon cat. The reason this myth exists is because of mysterious paw prints in the sandstone floor just outside of the former Supreme Court Chamber. They still have not found an explanation for the paw prints.
  • The Senate chaplain’s office has a rare oval window and it is one of the very few windows that still opens.  It can be seen on the left side of the west front.
  • For the first couple of decades, beginning in the fall of 1800 when the Federal government moved to D.C., the Capitol building was used during the administrations of Presidents Thomas  Jefferson and James Madison for Sunday religious services as well as for governmental functions.
  • Today there is still a private, locked chapel that is for the exclusive use of members.  According to the architect of the Capitol: “Its only purpose is to provide a quiet place to which individual senators and representatives may withdraw a while to seek divine strength and guidance, both in public affairs and in their own personal concerns.”

I’ve seen the Capitol Building almost every workday for the past thirty years.  But I learned new things about it as a result of this bike ride.  That’s just one of the reasons I ride.  And I look forward to more rides next year.  There are currently 435 posts on this blog about different places I’ve been to, events I’ve attended, or other interesting things I’ve seen throughout the city while out and about on my bike.  But I have an ever-growing list of more places to which I still want to ride.  And that list contains more places than the number places where I’ve already been.  So I anticipate that I will continue to be riding not only next year, but for the foreseeable future.

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The West Front of the United States Capitol Building

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Note:  The following historic photos obtained from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

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Top Left – Historic American Buildings Survey Copy of old photograph East Front of Capitol Dome under Construction, Showing Clairvoyee and Gates. (Library of Congress Call Number: Habs DC,Wash,1–1 .
Top Middle – West front of the United States Capitol, with the new cast-iron dome under construction. In the foregrd. is the Tiber Creek or Washington City Canal and the octagonal greenhouse for the Botanic Garden (Library of Congress Call Number: Lot 12332 [item] [P&P]. Contributor: Montgomery Meigs. Date Created: November 16,  1860.)
Top Right – Construction of Capitol Dome. (Library of Congress Call Number: Lot 12251, p. 49 [P&P]. Contributor: Benjamin Brown French. Date Created: Between 1860 and 1863.)
Bottom Left – Inauguration of Mr. Lincoln,
Photograph shows crowd attending ceremony; construction on dome of U.S. Capitol in background.  (Library of Congress Call Number: LOT 12251, p. 41 [P&P].  Contributor: Benjamin Brown French. Date Created: March 4, 1861.
Bottom  Middle – Photograph showing Capitol building with scaffolding surrounding Thomas Crawford’s Statue of Freedom atop the dome.  (Library of Congress Call Number: Unprocessed in PR 13 CN 1995:149 [item] [P&P], Date Created: between 1860 and 1863.)
Bottom Right – Photograph showing Union soldiers with rifles at attention in front of the Capitol.  (Library of Congress Call Number: Lot 12251, p. 55 [P&P]. Contributor: Benjamin Brown French. Date Created: May 13, 1861.)

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Note:  A complete renovation and restoration of the iconic Capitol dome was just recently completed.  In 2014, scaffolding was erected around the Capitol Building’s massive dome for a three-year restoration project, the first major overhaul of the dome in more than half a century.  After removing 14 layers of lead paint, applying 1,215 gallons of “Dome White” paint, the fabrication and replacement of exterior ornamentation, repairing deficiencies and over 1,300 different cracks in the cast iron and, finally, removing more than a million pounds of scaffolding, the Architect of the Capitol announced just last month that the restoration effort is officially complete.  So the freshly painted and restored Capitol Building and dome will look pristine next month when it serves as the backdrop for the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump.

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Scaffolding for Restoration of the Capitol Dome

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Mama Ayesha and the Presidents

During this lunchtime bike ride as I was riding across the Duke Ellington Memorial Bridge in northwest D.C.’s Adam’s Morgan neighborhood, I saw a mural on the side of a building on the eastern end of the bridge.  So I rode over to get a better look at the mural.  I discovered it was on the side of Mama Ayesha’s Restaurant, located at 1967 Calvert Street (MAP), and depicts the restaurant’s namesake standing in front of the White House.  She is flanked on either side by eleven different presidents standing in chronological order, starting with Dwight D. Eisenhower and ending with Barack Obama. The content of the public artwork is so unusual that I just had to find out more about it.

The mural was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and private donors.  It was created in 2009 by Karla Rodas, also known as Karlísima, who is a native of El Salvador but moved with her family as a child to nearby Alexandria.  After graduating from Annandale High School and Washington University, she returned to D.C. and has since become one of the capital city’s most well-known and respected muralists.

The initial concept for the mural was planned by Mama Ayesha’s family members, who have run the restaurant since its opening in 1960. However, the original plan did not have Mama Ayesha as the centerpiece of the work. Instead, the family wanted Helen Thomas, a renowned White House reporter and regular customer at the restaurant, to be at the center of the mural. She was envisioned to be seated at a desk with pen and paper in her hand. However, Thomas politely declined the family’s request, opining that Mama Ayesha should be portrayed instead.

The final design depicts Mama Ayesha in traditional Palestinian garb standing in front of the White House. With six presidents on her right and five on her left, she stands in the middle between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, with their arms interlocked. Interspersed throughout the mural are other symbols and additional scenes and landmarks from the national capital city. They include a bald eagle, the city’s famous cherry blossoms, as well as the Lincoln Memorial and its Reflecting Pool, the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument and the United States Capitol Building.  And representations of the U.S. flag appear on the sides of the painting.

With President Obama’s successor to be determined in tomorrow’s election, I hope the mural will be updated.  There is sufficient space in front of the Reflecting Pool for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.  I very much look forward to the election being over.  And I also look forward to being able to come back to see the updated mural at some point in the near future.

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The Octagon House

I may sound like I’m getting old by what I’m about to write, but Halloween isn’t what it used to be when I was growing up.  Some of the most popular costumes in recent years have been a twerking former Disney child star, a female prison inmate in an orange jumpsuit, and a fired high school chemistry teacher turned homicidal meth dealer.  I miss the more generic and traditional costumes, like ghosts.  So as I celebrated Halloween on today’s bike ride, I went on a ghost hunt. There are a number of reportedly haunted locations throughout D.C., and today I rode by a few of those places where ghosts and spirits are reported to have been encountered.

The first stop on my self-guided bike tour of D.C.’s haunted locations was The Octagon House, which is reported to be the most haunted residence in the city. It was built in 1801 by Colonel John Tayloe, III, and some members of the Tayloe family are reported to still be residing there today.  Two of Colonel Tayloe’s daughters are said to haunt their former home. The first allegedly died just before the War of 1812.  Colonel Tayloe and his daughter quarreled on the second floor landing over the girl’s relationship with a British officer stationed in the city.  And when the daughter turned in anger to go down the stairs, she “fell” down the stairs.  Or possibly over the railing.  Stories differ.  Either way, she died.  Her apparition has allegedly been seen crumpled at the bottom of the steps, or on the stairs near the second floor landing, and sometimes exhibits itself as the light of a candle moving up the staircase.

The death of the other Tayloe daughter, stories claim, occurred in 1817 or shortly thereafter.   She had eloped with a young man, thus incurring her father’s wrath.  When she returned home to reconcile with her father, they argued on the third-floor landing.  This daughter, too, “fell” to her death.  Her spirit is alleged to haunt the third floor landing and stairs between the second and third floors.

After the burning of the White House in the War of 1812, President James and Dolley Madison briefly lived at The Octagon House as well. Dolley Madison’s spirit is said to have been seen near the fireplace in the main ballroom as well as heading through a closed door to the garden.  Her ghost’s presence is reported to be accompanied by the smell of lilacs, which was her favorite flower.

Other spirits are also said to remain at The Octagon House as well. A slave girl in the house was allegedly killed by being thrown from the third floor landing to the first floor below by a British soldier during the War of 1812.  During the years since eyewitnesses have reported hearing her scream. The specter of a British soldier in a War of 1812 dress uniform was seen by a caretaker named James Cypress in the 1950s.  Perhaps it was the soldier who killed the slave girl.

A gambler shot to death in the home’s third-floor bedroom in the late 19th century has sometimes been seen still in the bed where he died. And ghostly footmen have been seen at the front door waiting to receive guests. Various witnesses have also reported hearing assorted moans, screams, and footsteps in The Octagon House.

The next stop on my ghost ride was the Dolly Madison House, also referred to as the Cutts-Madison House, located at 1520 H Street (MAP), near the northwest corner of Lafayette Square Park.  One of the most reported spirits in all of D.C. is that of former First Lady Dolley Madison. In addition to being seen at The Octagon House, her ghost has been encountered at additional locations, including the White House Rose Garden, and at her home on Lafayette Square. It is in this home that Dolley Madison spent her last years, and where she died in 1849. Since the mid-19th century, it is on the porch sitting in a rocking chair that her ghost has most often been encountered.

I then made a stop at the nearby statue of President Andrew Jackson, located in middle of Lafayette Square Park (MAP) across the street from the White House.  There are a variety of haunted accounts involving the boisterous President Jackson within the nearby White House. Most of the stories center around the canopy bed in the Rose bedroom on the second floor.  Mary Todd Lincoln and Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands are but a couple of the notable witnesses to President Jackson’s apparition.

My next stop on this haunted bike ride was the location where Congressman Daniel Sickles’ House used to be.  Located at 717 Madison Place (MAP), it is now the downtown site of the U.S. Court of Claims.

In 1859, Sickles shot and killed Philip Barton Key, who at that time was the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, and was the son of Francis Scott Key, who wrote the national anthem.  After learning of Key’s affair with his wife, Teresa, who was only 15 years old when she married the 33-year old Sickles, Sickles approached Teresa’s lover in front of his home and allegedly said, “Key, you scoundrel, you have dishonored my house. You must die.” He then shot Key. As he lay dying, Key gazed at the window where Teresa would signal him when the coast was clear for their trists. A jury acquitted Sickles after a sensational trial that featured the first use of the temporary insanity defense in U.S. legal history. Since that time Key’s visage has been reported to occasionally appear in the location where Sickles shot him.

I then proceeded to the Walsh Mansion, which currently serves as the Indonesian Embassy and is located at 2020 Massachusetts Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Embassy Row neighborhood.  The most expensive residence in the city at the time it was completed in 1903, the mansion was built by Thomas J. Walsh, a famous gold miner and industrialist. He was also known for giving the famed Hope Diamond to his daughter Evalyn Walsh McLean as a wedding present. However, along with the diamond came its curse.  According to the legend, a curse befell the large, blue diamond when it was stolen from an idol in India – a curse that foretold bad luck and death not only for the owner of the diamond but for all who touched it. Anyway, Evalyn continued to live in the house after her father’s passing until her death in 1947. However, by the time she died she had lost the family fortune and more, and to cover her significant debts, the Walsh Mansion was sold to the government of Indonesia. According to embassy staff, however, Evalyn never vacated the home. Rather, her spirit has been seen several times gliding down the mansion’s grand central staircase.

The Mary Surratt Boarding House was the next destination on my haunted tour of D.C.  Located at 604 H Street (MAP) in the heart of the city’s Chinatown neighborhood, the three-story Federal-style townhouse has been substantially renovated through the years.  But in the mid-1800’s it was a boarding house owned by Mary Surratt, who was convicted and hanged as one of the conspirators in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. The building currently houses a Chinese restaurant, named Wok and Roll, on the ground floor. But it may also house Mary Surratt’s ghost as well. From the 1870s onward, occupants of the building have claimed that Surratt’s spirit is responsible for the incomprehensible mumbling and whispers, footsteps, muffled sobs, and creaking floorboards which have unnerved them.

I also rode to the Capitol Hill neighborhood today, where the ghost of Joseph Holt is said to haunt the street near where he lived.  Holt was Judge Advocate General of the Army, and presided over the trials of the Lincoln assassination conspirators. During the trials, accused conspirators Dr. Samuel Mudd (who treated assassin John Wilkes Booth’s broken leg) and Mary Surratt (at whose downtown boarding house the conspirators met) were held at the Old Capitol Prison opposite the U.S. Capitol Building. The modern day U.S. Supreme Court Building stands on the site today. After Holt retired, he allegedly became a recluse in his Capitol Hill home. Local residents have told stories of Holt’s ghost walking down First Street in a blue suit and cape, pondering the guilt of Mudd and Surrat as he heads for the site of the Old Capitol Prison.

Lastly, before heading back to my office, I concluded my self-guided haunted bike tour by stopping by the U.S. Capitol Building. Many people would contend that the Capitol is soulless, but it is no stranger to departed souls. The Capitol Building is reputedly haunted by a former President, many past members of the House of Representatives, other government officials, officers who served during the American Revolutionary War, workers who died during its construction, and perhaps most famously, or infamously, a “demon black cat.”

One of the most illustrious ghosts said to haunt the Capitol Building is John Quincy Adams, the nation’s sixth President, who after serving as President went on to serve nine terms as a Massachusetts Congressman. In 1848, at age 81, Adams fell unconscious on the House floor while in the middle of a speech. Lawmakers carried him into the speaker’s office, where he died two days later. Ghost followers contend that his spirit subsequently made its way back to the chamber, now known as Statuary Hall. A plaque there marks the spot where Adams’ desk once stood. It is from that spot, believers attest, that his ghost sporadically redelivers his unfinished speech.

The infamous “demon black cat” is alleged to prowl the halls of Congress, and make appearances just before a national tragedy or change in Presidential administration. It was first seen in the early part of the 19th century, and a night watchman shot at it in 1862. It has also been seen by other night watchmen and members of the Capitol Police. It appeared before the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the October 1929 stock market crash, and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The cat has not only been seen in the halls, but has repeatedly appeared in Washington’s Tomb. The Tomb, located two levels below the crypt beneath the Capitol Rotunda, was an original feature of the building, planned as a resting place for George Washington and members of his family. But the Washington family politely declined the offer, and the Tomb now stands empty. Or does it?

The specters of at least two soldiers are also said to haunt the Capitol Building.  A few eyewitnesses have claimed that whenever an individual lies in state in the Capitol Rotunda, a World War I doughboy momentarily appears, salutes, then disappears. A second apparition, which eyewitnesses say is the ghost of an American Revolutionary War soldier, has also appeared at the Washington Tomb. According to several stories, the soldier appears, moves around the unused Washington family catafalque, and then passes through the door into the hallway before disappearing.

Thus having concluded my haunted tour, I headed back to my office.  It was a great bike ride, despite the fact that I did not see, hear, or otherwise sense the presence of any ghosts in a city that seems to be full of them.

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Enlarge this map and zoom in for the best view.
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Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial

Arlington House, also known as the Robert E. Lee Memorial, and formerly named the Custis-Lee Mansion, is a 19th-century Greek revival style mansion located atop a rolling hill in what is now Arlington National Cemetery (MAP), in Arlington County, Virginia.  And on this lunchtime bike ride I ventured over the Arlington Memorial Bridge to Virginia to see and find out more about the historic house.

The mansion, overlooking the national capital city landscape across the Potomac River, has a long and storied past.  Construction began in 1802, but was not actually completed until 1818. It was owned by his adopted grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, son of John Parke Custis who himself was a child of Martha Washington by her first marriage, and a ward of President Washington.  It was originally intended as a living memorial to President George Washington. To design the estate Custis hired George Hadfield, an English architect who came to D.C. in 1785 to help construct the U.S. Capitol Building.

Custis began living in the house in 1802, in the north wing, which was the first part completed. Two years later he married Mary Lee Fitzhugh, and she moved in with him. Construction of the house continued around them for the first sixteen years of their marriage, and they lived in Arlington House for the rest of their lives .  They were buried together on the property after their deaths in 1857 and 1853, respectively.

Their only child, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, took ownership of the property upon her father’s death. She moved in and lived there with her childhood friend and distant cousin, who she had married years earlier. His name was Robert E. Lee. They would have seven children, six of whom were born at the estate.

Contrary to popular belief, Lee never actually owned the Arlington estate.  However, as Mary’s husband he did serve as custodian of the property, which by that time had fallen into disrepair. Although it would take several years, Lee returned the property and its holdings to good order by 1859. But that would only last a couple of years. It would not be long until Lee would leave Arlington Mansion, never to return again.

On May 24, 1861, just hours after the Commonwealth of Virginia ratified an ordinance of secession, thus joining the Confederate States of America, over 3,500 U.S. Army soldiers, commanded by General Irvin McDowell, streamed across the Potomac River into northern Virginia and captured the Arlington estate.  It would soon be seized by the U.S. government when Mrs. Lee failed to pay, in person, taxes levied against the estate.  It was then offered for public sale, at which time a tax commissioner purchased the property for “government use, for war, military, charitable and educational purposes.”

It wasn’t until 1864, when the increasing number of battle fatalities was outpacing the burial capacity of D.C. cemeteries, that 200 acres of Arlington plantation were set aside as a cemetery. Upon the authority of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, General Montgomery C. Meigs, Quartermaster General of the U.S. Army, appropriated the grounds for use as a military cemetery.  Meigs believed Lee committed treason in deciding to fight against the Union, and denying Lee use of the mansion after the war was politically advantageous.  So he decided that a large number of burials should occur close to Arlington House to render it unlivable should the Lee family ever attempt to return.  And he was successful.  The mansion never again served as the Lee family’s, or anyone else’s, home.

Throughout the war, the Arlington estate also provided assistance to the thousands of African-Americans slaves fleeing the South.  The U.S. government even dedicated a planned community for freed slaves on the southern portion of the property, which was named Freedman’s Village.  The government granted land to more than 1,100 freed slaves, where they farmed and lived until the turn of the 20th century.

Neither Robert E. Lee, nor his wife ever attempted to recover control of Arlington House. However, after Lee’s death in 1870, his son, George Washington Custis Lee, brought an action for ejectment in the Circuit Court of Alexandria (today Arlington County).  Custis Lee, as eldest son of the Lees, claimed the land was illegally confiscated and that, according to his grandfather’s will, he was the legal owner.  In December 1882, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, returned the property to Custis Lee, stating that confiscation of the property lacked due process. The following year Congress purchased the property back from Lee.

In 1955, Congress enacted Public Law 84-107, a joint resolution that designated the manor as the “Custis-Lee Mansion”, and as a permanent memorial to Robert E. Lee. The resolution directed the United States Secretary of the Interior to erect on the premises a memorial plaque and to correct governmental records to bring them into compliance with the designation, “thus ensuring that the correct interpretation of its history would be applied”.  Gradually the house was furnished and interpreted to the period of Robert E. Lee as specified in the legislation.  In 1972, Congress enacted Public Law 92-333, an Act that amended the previous law to designate the manor as “Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial”.  It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in October of 1966, and is currently administered by the National Park Service.

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The view from the front porch of Arlington House

 

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The National Memorial Day Concert

Over the past week or so it has become clear to me that Memorial Day is one of the best holidays to schedule a visit to our nation’s capitol. There are so many activities that take place, all scheduled within a short period of time leading up to the holiday, that it is worth planning ahead so that you can be here next year.  And during this past weekend I was able to attend an event that was a highlight for me – The National Memorial Day Concert.

Actually, this year I attended the dress rehearsal for the concert. And it turned out to be a good decision. The concert itself takes place on the Sunday before Memorial Day, and the dress rehearsal takes place on Saturday.  Both are held on the West Lawn, on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol Building (MAP).  The dress rehearsal includes everything the actual concert does, except this year it didn’t include the rain.  It was a dry, mild evening for the rehearsal on Saturday. But on Sunday, rain brought on by a tropical depression making its way up the East Coast, fell throughout most of the concert.

So I took my youngest daughter, and we got to the rehearsal concert early.  In fact,  we arrived just as they were opening the security gates. So we got great lawn seats, right behind the cordoned-off security area in the front.  We had a great view of this year’s performers, including the National Symphony Orchestra under the direction of top pops conductor Jack Everly, who were at times accompanied by The U.S. Army Herald Trumpets, The U.S. Army Chorus, The Soldiers’ Chorus of the U.S. Army Field Band, The U.S. Navy Band Sea Chanters, and The U.S. Air Force Singing Sergeants. We also enjoyed performances by acclaimed classical singer Renée Fleming, actress and singer Katharine McPhee, American Idol winner Trent Harmon, and Broadway star Alfie Boe. But the highlights of the concert for me were The Beach Boys, who I hadn’t seen in person since their controversial 1980 concert for the 4th of July on the National Mall, singing several of their iconic songs, and country music star Trace Adkins, who performed his hit song entitled Arlington.

The concert was a lot of fun. Both my daughter and I really enjoyed it. But the highlight for my daughter came after the performances ended. At this point it is important to know that she is a huge fan of Gary Sinise who, for the 11th year in a row, co-hosted the event along with Joe Montegna.  In fact, despite his widespread popularity, she may actually be Gary Sinise’s biggest fan. So after the performances ended, and most of the crowd had left, the hosts and performers stayed and taped some additional footage so that if the next night’s concert had to be cancelled due to the approaching storm, an edited version of the rehearsal would be able to air in the time slot scheduled for of the live broadcast of the concert.  And it was during this time that the highlight of my daughter’s evening occurred.

Since most of the security detail left along with the crowd at the end of the rehearsal, we saw an opportunity and snuck through the security barriers into the cordoned off area where Gary Sinise was filming his retakes so she can see him close up.  Then, just as everything was ending and the performers were beginning to leave, she was able to catch up with him as he was exiting the stage, and actually meet him.  And standing there in her Bubba Gump Shrimp Company hat, like one that he wore in the movie Forrest Gump, and her Lieutenant Dan t-shirt, she also got him to autograph her hat as they briefly talked.

She said her heart was beating so hard that it almost burst out of her chest when she met him.  And she’s been absolutely giddy about the whole experience ever since.  She even ran out the next day and bought a display case for the autographed hat.  Afterward she told me that meeting her favorite actor and getting his autograph had been a big item on her bucket list. So she has now crossed that off her list. And I got to cross an item off my list too, which was to help someone else accomplish something on their bucket list.  And despite how good the performances were, that beats a concert any day.

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Note:  My one complaint about the National Memorial Day Concert and the preceding rehearsal is that despite warnings about traffic and inadequate parking for the event, they make no accommodations for people arriving on bicycles.

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The Original Washington Monument

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

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

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

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

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

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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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The Bartholdi Fountain

Of all the monuments, statues, memorials, and other interesting places and events in D.C., some of my favorite destinations on my lunchtime D.C. bike rides, especially during the warm months of summer, are public fountains. And there are many of them in the National Capitol City from which to choose. One of the most famous is officially named “Fountain of Light and Water,” but is more commonly referred to as the Bartholdi Fountain.  Located at the corner of Independence Avenue and First Street (MAP) in The United States Botanic Garden in southwest D.C., it was the destination for this ride.

The fountain is referred to as The Bartholdi Fountain because it was created by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the French sculptor who is best known for designing the Statue of Liberty. The fountain is based on Classical and Renaissance sculpture, and is composed of a series of basins, supported by sculptures of classical figures. The fountain was cast in Paris by A. Durenne Foundry, and the cast iron is coated with bronze. Standing in the center of a circular marble pool, the fountain weighs 30,440 pounds, stands 30 feet high, and has three caryatid figures 11 feet in height.

The three-level fountain is topped by a mural crown resembling a crenellated city wall. Water spills from the crown over three youthful tritons playfully holding seaweed and splashes into the upper basin. Twelve lamps surround the basin. The crown appears to be held by caryatid figures depicting nereids, or sea nymphs, standing on a triangular pedestal with an ornamental design of seas shells and coral. Three reptiles are positioned at the pedestal’s corners, and spout water while supporting the fountain’s lower vasque. Water spouts from a crown at the top, cascades down into the smaller vasque, and then down into the larger vasque before spilling into the main basin.

The cast-iron fountain was made for the first official World’s Fair in the United States, also known as the Centennial Exposition, which was held in Philadelphia in 1876 to celebrate the 100th birthday of the United States. After the conclusion of the Centennial Exposition, Bartholdi offered the statue for sale for $12,000. However, he could not find a buyer. The following year, at the suggestion of Frederick Law Olmsted, the famous landscape architect who designed the Capitol Building grounds, the U.S. Congress offered him $6,000 for the fountain, half his original asking price. Bartholdi begrudgingly agreed, and in 1877 the fountain was placed at the base of Capitol Hill on what used to be Botanic Garden grounds. It was removed and placed in storage in 1926 in order to facilitate completion of The George Gordon Meade Memorial, and for landscaping improvements around the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial. Then in 1932, the sculpture was placed at its current location in the United States Botanic Garden, within the grounds of the United States Capitol Building.

Since the bike rides I write about in this blog take place during my lunchtime breaks at work, I did not visit the fountain at night. But if you are in the city after dark, I highly recommend a visit because to really appreciate the beauty of the Bartholdi Fountain, you’ll need to see it when the cascade of water is illuniated after the sun sets.  Originally designed and fitted with gas lamps, it was one of the first monuments in D.C. to be lit at night. Other than the fact that the lamps were later converted to electricity in 1915, the Barholdi Fountain remains the same popular evening destination that it has been since the 1880s.

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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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