Posts Tagged ‘U.S. Capitol Building’

The Orchid Room at the United States Botanic Garden

During today’s lunchtime bike ride, I started off the month by once again stopping by the United States Botanic Garden, located near the U.S. Capitol Building at 1st Street & Maryland Avenue (MAP) in Downtown D.C.  In operation since 1850 and in its current location since 1933, the United States Botanic Gardens houses numerous themed rooms, and is home to almost 10,000 living specimens, some of them over 165 years old.  During this visit I stopped by to spend some time appreciating the flowering plants in The Orchid Room, which are presented annually in collaboration with the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection.

With blooms that are often colorful and fragrant, orchids are easily distinguished from other plants based on some very evident, shared derived characteristics, know as apomorphies.  Among these are:  bilateral symmetry of the flower, also referred to as zygomorphism; many resupinate flowers; a nearly always highly modified petal  orlabellum; fused stamens and carpels, and; extremely small seeds.

Orchids showcase a wide spectrum of color, shape, size, habitat, and scent, and with approximately 30,000 species are one of the two largest and diverse families of flowering plants.  The other are daisies.  And over the past 80 million years, orchids have successfully colonized every continent except Antarctica, and almost every conceivable habitat, from remote Mediterranean mountaintops to living rooms around the world.

And one of the secrets to their success is unusual and highly specialized pollination methods.  Many orchids provide food for insects and birds and even more have symbiotic relationships with micro-organisms that assist with nutrient cycling in the ecosystem.  Butterflies and moths are enticed to pollinate orchids that resemble flowers they normally feed on or orchids that provide a landing area and sufficient nectar rewards. Moth-pollinated orchids tend to have strong nighttime fragrances to attract their pollinators from great distances.  And in higher-elevation cloud forests where there are fewer pollinators, some orchids have evolved to have brightly colored tubular flowers with large nectar rewards to entice hummingbirds.

But the most unusual method is employed by the Ophrys apifera, also known as the “bee” orchid.  The bee orchid, or the “prostitute” orchid as it is less politely called by some botanists, has what is probably the most unusual pollination method.  It can best be described as sex, or pseudo-sex.  Small but flamboyant, the bee orchid is one of nature’s great mimics. Perched within the large pink sepals are petals shaped and colored like a visiting bee. The pink sepals look like wings and there are furry, brown lips that have yellow markings just like a bee.  But the deception goes further than visual appearance alone.  The flower takes on the tactile experience, and even emits the scent, of a female bee.  But the orchid offers the bee no nectar reward or pollen meal.  Instead, it attracts amorous male bee pollinators with the promise of bee sex to ensure its pollination.

So the next time you are walking through The Orchid Room, or admiring the beauty of some orchids, keep in mind that there is often more to them than meets the eye.

 

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

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The Reverend Billy Graham Lying in Honor

On my daily lunchtime bike ride today I rode to the U.S. Capitol Building, where the Reverend Billy Graham, who passed away a week ago today at the age of 99, is lying in honor.  Lying in honor is reserved only for private citizens, who are given the honor of having their casket placed in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda for public viewing. Including Billy Graham, only four private citizens have been given this honor. The first citizens to be given the honor are U.S. Capitol Police Officers Jacob Chestnut and John Gibson, who were killed in the line of duty during a shootout in the Capitol Building in 1998.  Civil rights icon Rosa Parks also lied in state after her death in 2005.  The Reverend Graham is the fourth, and the only religious leader in history to be given the honor.

Prior to lying in honor in the Capitol Building, the Reverend Graham lay in repose on yesterday and the day before at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte North Carolina. Thousands visited and paid the evangelist their respects.  Lying in repose is actually different from lying in honor or lying in state.  Lying in repose typically refers to when the casket of someone of high stature can be publicly viewed in a building other than the Rotunda, so the public can pay their respects.

There are no official rules that dictate who can lie in state or who can lie in honor, except that customarily only government officials can lie in state, versus private citizens who can lie in honor. The casket is typically guarded by the U.S. Capitol Police. The decision to grant this honor is made by a concurrent resolution of the House and Senate, and can be granted to anyone, with the family’s approval, who has given distinguished service to the nation.

I made sure to get there early, even before the viewing was open to the public.  Unfortunately, the line of people already there and waiting to file by and pay their respects was prohibitive for someone who had only their lunch hour before having to go back to work.  Despite getting there approximately an hour and a half early, there were already thousands of people in a line that stretched from the building out to the street, and then the equivalent of another eight city blocks.  So as I left, I couldn’t help but think that the line of people, in and of itself, would seem to serve as a testament to the respect so many people had for the great man who came to be known as “America’s Pastor”, and his service to our country, the world, and God.

         

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

 

This Morning’s Sunrise

Posted: February 9, 2018 in Events
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This Morning’s Sunrise

This morning, as the Congress and Senate were still inside the U.S. Capitol Building trying to reach an agreement to pass a continuing resolution which would reopen the Federal government and end the second government shutdown of the year, the rest of us on the outside were treated to a sunrise that was so beautiful that it made you temporarily forget about the political ugliness going on inside the building.

As the sun rose and the blackness of night seemed to change the entire sky to a deep red and then a pronounced pink, I decided to stop on the way to work and take some time to watch the spectacular show.  I can’t recall ever seeing such a red sky, and it reminded me of the saying, “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning.”  But with what was going on inside the Capitol, I think the politicians, more than sailors, should take warning.

The 45th Annual March for Life

This week has been an interesting one. The workweek began with a day off to commemorate the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal holiday. Severe winter weather moved into the area during the week as well. With temperatures near 70 degrees during the preceding weekend, a weather front moved in that had the temperatures drop down into single digits. The weather front also brought snow with it, which caused areas schools to close on more than one day. Now at the end of a week in which Federal workers like myself are waiting to see if the lack of a budget will result in the government shutting down at the end of the day today, the temperature has risen back up to almost 50 degrees just in time for my lunchtime bike ride to this year’s March for Life.

The March for Life is an annual event which began as a small demonstration on the first anniversary of two U.S. Supreme Court decisions in 1973 in cases known as Roe v Wade and Doe v Bolton, which were landmark decisions on the issue of abortion. Over the years the March for Life has grown to include numerous other cities in the United States and throughout the world. The March in D.C., however, has become and remains the largest pro-life event in the world.

I have attended the March for Life each year for many years, as I did again today for the 45th annual march. This year’s events included a musical opening before the rally program began, which took place at noon on the National Mall at 12th Street, in between Madison Drive and Jefferson Drive. During the program there were a number of featured speakers, including President Donald Trump (via video satellite), Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, and Pam Tebow, the mother of former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow. Directly after the program there was a march up Constitution Avenue to the Supreme Court Building and the Capitol Building took place. After finishing marching there was then a time for “Silent No More” testimonies outside U.S. Supreme Court, as well as chances for some to meet with their Representative or Senator to advocate for life.

According to the latest statistics available on abortions worldwide, published by the World Health Organization (WHO), every year there are an estimated 40-50 million abortions. This corresponds to approximately 125,000 abortions per day.  Approximately 926,200 of these abortions were performed in the United States, which equates to approximately nineteen percent of all pregnancies in this country (excluding miscarriages) ending in abortion. Other available information from the WHO on abortion in the United States shows that nearly half (45%) of all pregnancies among U.S. women were unintended, and about four in 10 of these were terminated by abortion. This made the abortion rate 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women aged (15–44).  Among these women, 1.5% have had an abortion, with just under half of these women (45%) reported having a previous abortion.  Those who have abortions come primarily from the poorest among us (75 percent), women of color (61 percent), women pursuing post-secondary degrees that would lift them out of poverty (66 percent), and mothers who already have dependents (59 percent).  Overall, based on all available statistics, one in 20 women (5%) will have an abortion by age 20, about one in five (19%) by age 30 and about one in four (24%) by age 45.

The March for Life may not put an end to the tragedy of abortion, but it’s a good step (or steps).

 

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

More information about the annual March for Life can be found on one of my previous blog posts.

#WhyWeMarch  #MarchForLife  #MarchForLife2018

Plant-Based D.C. Landmarks

Sadly, despite having worked in downtown D.C. for the past 30 years, I had never visited the United States Botanic Garden during the Christmas holiday season before this year.  I’ve been there many times but not during the holidays. But a friend who only lived here for a year before moving out of the area knew about the Botanic Garden’s annual holiday display, entitled Season’s Greenings, and the sights, smells, and sounds that accompany it.  When she asked me about this year’s display, it prompted me to go check it out.  And I’m so glad I did.

This year’s display is a multifaceted one that stretches throughout the Botanic Garden.  First, it includes the return of a series of D.C. landmarks made out of plant materials.  The holiday display also includes thousands of blooms throughout the Conservatory, from exotic orchids to a showcase of heirloom and newly developed poinsettia varieties in the seasonal Poinsettia Room.  Lastly, this year’s holiday decorations include a showcase of model trains chugging around, below, through, and above plant-based recreations of iconic sights and roadside attractions from across the United States.

I will be covering the Poinsettia display, and the model train and roadside attractions showcase in the near future.  Today’s blog post focuses on the collection of D.C. landmarks, all made from a myriad of plant and other natural materials, which is displayed in the Garden Court.  There are a dozen local landmarks and memorials on display this year.  The White House swing set, which had been included in previous years, was not present this year because the actual swing set is no longer at the White House.  In it’s place is the Albert Einstein Memorial.  Also new this year is the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened a little over a year ago.  All of the landmarks would be incredible in and of themselves.  But knowing that they are made of plants adds to the experience.

For added holiday cheer at the Botanic Garden, there are concerts on Tuesday and Thursday evenings in December, when hours are extended until 8pm.  If you can, I highly recommend going on one of these days for both the music and to see the exhibit and plant collections illuminated by colorful lights.  One of my first thoughts after seeing Seasons Greenings was wishing that I had known about it and gone in previous years.  So do yourself a favor and go so you don’t have the same thought years from now.

 

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

1 – U.S. Capitol Building
2 – The Thomas Jefferson Memorial
3 – Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building
4 – Lincoln Memorial
5 – National Museum of African American History and Culture
6 – National Museum of the American Indian
7 – Smithsonian Institution, The Castle
8 – U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory
9 – U.S. Supreme Court
10 – Washington Monument
11 – White House
12 – Albert Einstein Memorial

NOTE:  My blog post on “Seasons Greetings: Railroads and Roadside Attractions” will appear next Monday.

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.

         

         

         

         

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

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

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

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

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

[Click on the photo to view the full-size version]

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

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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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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