Posts Tagged ‘West Potomac Park’

MasonMemorial01

The George Mason Memorial

On this lunchtime bike ride I visited the national memorial to a man who George Washington regarded as his mentor, and who was described by Thomas Jefferson as “the wisest man of his generation.” The memorial honors George Mason, and is located at 900 Ohio Drive (MAP), near the Tidal Basin and The Jefferson Memorial, in southwest D.C.’s West Potomac Park.

George Mason, one of our nation’s Founding Fathers, devoted himself to achieving American independence, despite being a widower with nine children to raise.  He was the author of the Fairfax Resolves that recommended a “continental congress” to preserve colonial rights.  And in 1776, as a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, Mason wrote the Virginia Constitution and the landmark Virginia Declaration of Rights, the seminal document that not only influenced Thomas Jefferson when he wrote the Declaration of Independence, but also France’s 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the United Nations’ 1954 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Although Mason was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia, and took an active role in drafting the United States Constitution, he refused to sign it or participate in its signing ceremony, which occurred on this day, September 17th, in 1787.  The decision not to sign the Constitution would cost him his friendship with George Washington.  He objected with the final draft of the Constitution because, as an Anti-Federalist, he thought that the document did not contain provisions to sufficiently guarantee individual human rights and protect citizens from the power of the Federal government.  He also refused to sign the Constitution because it failed to ban the importation of slaves, an institution which he considered morally objectionable, despite the fact that he was one of the largest slaveholders in the area, possibly second only to George Washington.  In fact, he not only refused to sign the Constitution, but along with Patrick Henry he actively led a fight against its ratification.  For this he would come to be known as “the reluctant statesman.”  Four years later, after the subsequent adoption of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, collectively known as the Bill of Rights, Mason stated that he could finally devote his “heart to the new Government.”

The George Mason Memorial features a 72-foot long stone wall with a larger than life-sized bronze statue of Mason staring off into the distance.  He is depicted sitting with his legs crossed, holding a book, with his walking stick and hat on the bench to his right and a stack of books to his left.  The statue is situated under a trellis, in a landscaped grove of trees and flower beds set among concentric circles around a circular pool with a fountain. The memorial was designed by sculptor Wendy M. Ross and landscape architect Faye B. Harwell.

Because there were no reliable images of Mason for her to accurately render her statue of him, Ross’s depiction is based on descriptions from Mason’s family and friends, a meeting with Mason’s living relatives, and a single posthumous painting of Mason which is located at Gunston Hall, Mason’s Georgian-style mansion near the Potomac River just 24 miles south of the memorial in nearby Mason Neck, Virginia.

Harwell designed the memorial’s landscaping features to adapt to the site’s history as a formal garden, as well as Mason’s love of gardens.  The site had originally been a Victorian garden in the late 19th century, which was subsequently designated in 1902 as one of the four national gardens established by The McMillan Plan, a comprehensive planning document for the development of the national capital city’s monumental core and the park system.  In 1929, the site was redesigned as The Pansy Garden.  This garden and its accompanying fountain which was used by Harwell in the design of the memorial.

The George Mason Memorial was authorized by Congress in August of 1990, with groundbreaking just over a decade later in October of 2000. It was completed and dedicated in April of 2002, and is managed by the National Park Service.  It is the first memorial in the Tidal Basin area dedicated to an individual who did not serve as president, and among the last to be sited on the grounds of the National Mall.

MasonMemorial07     MasonMemorial02     MasonMemorial08

MasonMemorial06     MasonMemorial05     MasonMemorial04
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

PaddleBoats01

Tidal Basin Paddle Boats

The Tidal Basin is a partially man-made reservoir between the Potomac River and the Washington Channel in southwest D.C.’s West Potomac Park.  And there are a number of memorials and attractions situated adjacent to the Tidal Basin.  Most famous of which are the world-renowned Japanese cherry trees, which are a focal point of the National Cherry Blossom Festival held each spring.  Other attractions include The Thomas Jefferson Memorial, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, and the George Mason Memorial.  But on this lunchtime bike ride to the Tidal Basin I went there for another reason – the Tidal Basin Paddle Boats.

The Tidal Basin Paddle Boat Dock is located on the eastern shore of the Tidal Basin, at 1501 Maine Avenue (MAP) next to the National Park Service concession stand.  You can get there from the National Mall by walking west on Independence Avenue to 15th Street, and then turning left and heading south along 15th Street toward the Jefferson Memorial.  There you will find the dock on the right.

Operated by Guest Services, Inc., both two and four-person paddle boats are available for hourly rental between March 15 and Labor Day each year, from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m., weather permitting. The last boat rental is at 5:00 p.m.  Now that it’s after Labor Day, they are open between now and Columbus Day weekend from Wednesday through Sunday, from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m.  Again, weather permitting.

The paddle boats are a great way for tourists and D.C. natives alike to experience the 107 acres of the Tidal Basin, and at the same time take in the unique views that being out on the water affords visitors of the nearby memorials and other attractions.  It’s also a great way to spend a lunch hour.

ArtsOfWar01

The Arts of War

“The Arts of War” and “The Arts of Peace” are two distinctly different yet interrelated sets of sculptures located on Lincoln Memorial Circle (MAP), in northwest D.C.’s West Potomac Park. Framing the eastern entrances to Arlington Memorial Bridge and the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway, respectively, the works were commissioned in 1929 to complement the plaza constructed on the east side of The Lincoln Memorial.  Due to budgetary constraints brought on by the stock market crash beginning on Black Tuesday in October of that year, the completion of the sculptures had to be delayed.  Then when they were finally completed a decade later, they had to be placed into storage, again due to a lack of funding.

Then in 1949, some members of Congress suggested that a European nation be asked to cast the statues as part of the Marshall Plan. At the time the Italian Ambassador to the United States, Alberto Tarchiani, was looking for a way to express his country’s gratitude to the United States for America’s assistance in rebuilding Italy after World War II. And after learning of the models in storage, he decided that Italy would use Marshall Plan funds to take on the responsibility of casting and gilding the four statues as a gift and gesture of good will to the people of the United States. The statues were finally cast in 1950, at the A. Bruni Foundry in Rome and the Fonderia Lagana in Naples. After casting, one of the statues was sent to Milan, and another was sent to Florence, while the remaining two remained in Rome and Naples. The cases were then gilded with approximately 100 pounds of 24-karat gold before being returned to the United States and erected in September of 1951. Almost 64 years later, I rode there on this lunchtime bike ride to see them.

Flanking the entrance to Arlington Memorial Bridge, the bronze, fire-gilded statuary group entitled “The Arts of War” was sculpted by an American sculptor named Leo Friedlander. The group consists of two art deco-style statues entitled “Valor”, which is located on the left if facing the bridge from D.C., and on the right, “Sacrifice”. “Valor” depicts a bearded, muscular male nude symbolic of Mars, the ancient Roman god of war. To his left is a semi-nude female striding forward, holding a shield with her left arm. “Sacrifice” shows the same figures. But the nude male is holding a child in his arms, and is bowing his head. The semi-nude female is to his right, her back to him and the horse.

“ The Arts of Peace”, created by American sculptor James Earle Fraser, also consists of two separate statuary groups, entitled “Aspiration and Literature”, which is on the left, and “Music and Harvest” on the right. These Neoclassical statues frame the entrance to the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway. Both statues feature Pegasus, the source of inspiration and poetry in Greek mythology. “Aspiration and Literature” consists of a nude male on Pegasus’ right with a toga over his left shoulder and holding an open book, symbolic of literature. Another nude male on Pegasus’ left, dressed in a toga over both shoulders, is depicted aiming a bow backward, which is symbolic of aspiration. A serpent is also portrayed behind the personification of literature, representing wisdom and knowledge. “Music and Harvest” consists of a nude male on Pegasus’ right holding a sickle and carrying a sheaf of wheat , symbolizing of harvest. A semi-nude female holding a harp, symbolic of music, is on Pegasus’ left. A turtle, symbolizing the belief that art is long and time is fleeting, is also present.

The massive statues are the largest equestrian sculptures in the United States, with each weighing 40 tons, and measuring 19 feet high, 16 feet long and 8 feet wide. Each is mounted on a hollow granite pedestal which has 36 gilded bronze stars at the top, representing the number of states in the United States at the time of the Civil War. The Arts of War and The Arts of Peace are maintained by the National Park Service, and are considered contributing properties to the East and West Potomac Parks Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

ArtsOfPeace01

The Arts of Peace

ArtsOfWar03     ArtsOfWar04     ArtsOfPeace03     ArtsOfPeace02
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

20150413_081209

The Annual Cherry Blossoms

I wrote last year in this blog about The Cherry Blossoms Around The Tidal Basin and along the Potomac River, but the spectacle of the thousands of trees at peak bloom is something that not only can but should be enjoyed every year. Unfortunately, the duration of the visual splendor of these delicate blooms is available for only a brief time, leading many to say that they are symbolic and serve to remind us of the beauty and brevity of life. Sadly, this year’s blossoms peaked earlier this week and are now gone. The wind and rain of the past few days have caused the trees to lose their blooms, forcing us to wait until next year to again experience the annual spectacle. However, in the meantime, I hope you will enjoy these photos (you can click on the photos to enlarge them and see them in their full size) which I took during my lunchtime bike rides during the past week.  As you do, think about the bright white and pink flowers which seem to be illuminated by the sunlight. Try to imagine their subtle yet sweet fragrance in the early morning hours as you watch the sun rise on the other side of The Washington Monument. Picture yourself sitting on one of the many park benches next to the twisted and gnarled trunk of one of the trees, while petals from the fleeting blossoms fall all around you.  Think about walking under the trees’ low hanging limbs while you traverse the waterside walkway surrounding the Tidal Basin.  And imagine the feel of a gentle breeze as you enjoy the rows of trees lining the trails and roads along the river.  Try to imagine these things and you’ll probably understand why I enjoy riding my bike around the city to enjoy the cherry trees, as well as all of the other attractions and experiences this area has to offer.

20150413_080845(0)   20150413_075410   20150413_084154

20150413_073720   20150413_084514   20150413_083021

The Jefferson Memorial

The Jefferson Memorial

On this day in 1939, the 32nd President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, laid the cornerstone of the memorial to our nation’s 3rd President, Thomas Jefferson. Construction of the memorial had begun the previous December, and would not be completed until 1943. The 19-foot tall bronze statue of Jefferson by the sculptor Rudulph Evans was subsequently added four years later, in 1947. Then, 75 years after the laying of the cornerstone, I rode to the memorial on this lunchtime bike.

As a public official, historian, philosopher, lawyer, businessman and plantation owner, Thomas Jefferson served his country for over five decades. In addition to being our country’s 3rd President, he was also one of America’s founding fathers, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, Vice President of the United States, the first U.S. Secretary of State, member of the Continental Congress, a state legislator and Governor of Virginia, United States Minister to France, and the founder of the University of Virginia.

The Memorial to Thomas Jefferson is a neoclassical building which features circular marble steps, a portico, a circular colonnade of Ionic order columns, and a shallow dome.  It is located in West Potomac Park, on the shore of the Potomac River Tidal Basin (MAP), and is enhanced with the massed planting of Japanese cherry trees, a gift from the people of Japan in 1912. Because many of the well-established cherry trees had to be removed for construction, there was significant opposition to its being built at that location. However, construction continued amid the opposition.

In addition to the domed building which is open to the elements and the prominent statue of Jefferson, the memorial prominently features quotes and exerpts from Jefferson’s writings.  On the panel of the southwest interior wall are excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, which reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men. We…solemnly publish and declare, that these colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states…And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

On the northwest interior wall is an a panel with an excerpt from “A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, 1777”, except for the last sentence, which is taken from a letter of August 28, 1789, to James Madison.  It reads, “Almighty God hath created the mind free…All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens…are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion…No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion. I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively.”

The quotes from the panel of the northeast interior wall are from multiple sources, and reads, “God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than these people are to be free. Establish the law for educating the common people. This it is the business of the state to effect and on a general plan.”

The inscription on the panel of the southeast interior wall is redacted and excerpted from a letter of July 12, 1816, to Samuel Kercheval.  It reads, “I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

The monument is not as prominent in popular culture as other D.C. buildings and monuments, possibly due to its location well removed from the National Mall and its poor approximation to the Washington Metro subway system and accessibility to tourists. The Jefferson Memorial hosts many events and ceremonies each year, including memorial exercises, the National Easter Sunrise Service, and the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival.

On the American Institute of Architects list of America’s favorite architecture, it ranks fourth behind the Empire State Building, the White House, and Washington National Cathedral. The Jefferson Memorial is managed by the National Park Service under its National Mall and Memorial Parks division. The monument is open 24 hours a day but park rangers are there only until 11:30 p.m. However, the monument is only a few hundred yards from the National Park Police D.C. Headquarters in East Potomac Park.

Jefferson01b   JeffersonMemorial03  JeffersonMemorial02   JeffersonCornerstone01

JeffersonMemorial06     JeffersonMemorial05     JeffersonMemorial04     JeffersonMemorial07
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

The Korean War Veterans Memorial

The Korean War Veterans Memorial

On this ride Julius and I went to one of D.C.’s “major” memorials, the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Located in southwest D.C.’s West Potomac Park, just south of The Reflecting Pool on the National Mall (MAP), the memorial commemorates the sacrifices of the 5.8 million Americans who served in the U.S. armed services during the three-year period of the Korean War.

On June 25, 1950, North Korean military forces surprised the South Korean army, and the small U.S. force stationed in the country, and quickly headed toward the capital city of Seoul. The U.S. responded by pushing a resolution through the United Nations Security Council calling for military assistance to South Korea. The Soviet Union was not present to veto the action as it was boycotting the Security Council at the time. With this resolution in hand, President Harry Truman rapidly dispatched U.S. land, air, and sea forces to Korea to engage in what he termed a “police action.” The U.S. intervention turned the tide, and U.S. and South Korean forces marched into North Korea. This action, however, prompted the massive intervention of communist Chinese forces in late 1950. The war in Korea subsequently bogged down into a bloody stalemate. On July 27, 1953, the U.S. and North Korea signed a cease-fire that ended the conflict. The cease-fire agreement also resulted in the continued division of North and South Korea at just about the same geographical point as before the conflict.

The Korean War was the first “hot” war of the Cold War. Korea was the first “limited war,” one in which the U.S. aim was not the complete and total defeat of the enemy, but rather the “limited” goal of protecting South Korea. For the U.S. government, such an approach was the only rational option in order to avoid a third world war and to keep from stretching finite American resources too thinly around the globe. It proved to be a frustrating experience for the American people, who were used to the kind of total victory that had been achieved in World War II. The public found the concept of limited war difficult to understand or support and the Korean War never really gained popular support.

The war was one of the most hard-fought in American history. During its relatively short duration, 54,246 Americans died in support of their country. Of these, 8,200 are listed as missing in action or lost or buried at sea. An additional 103,284 Americans were wounded during the conflict.  An estimated 2.5 million civilians were also killed or wounded.

The main portion of the memorial honoring these men and women is in the form of a triangle intersecting a circle. Within the walled triangle are 19 stainless steel statues, which represent an ethnic cross section of America. Each statue is larger than life-size, measuring between 7 feet 3 inches and 7 feet 6 inches tall, and weighing nearly half a ton. The figures represent a squad on patrol, drawn from each branch of the armed forces; fourteen of the figures are from the U.S. Army, three are from the Marine Corps, one is a Navy Corpsman, and one is an Air Force Forward Air Observer. They are dressed in full combat gear, dispersed among strips of granite and juniper bushes which represent the rugged terrain of Korea.

The main reflection wall along the south side of the triangle is 164 feet long, 8 inches thick; and made from more than 100 tons of highly polished “Academy Black” granite. More than 2,500 photographic, archival images depicting soldiers, equipment and people involved in the war are sandblasted onto the wall. When the statues are reflected on the wall, there appear to be 38 soldiers, representing the 38th parallel. To the north of the statues is a path, forming another side of the triangle. Alongside the path, forming the second side of the triangle is the United Nations Wall, a low wall listing the 22 members of the United Nations that contributed troops or medical support to the Korean War effort.  The third side of the triangle, facing towards The Lincoln Memorial, is open.

The memorial’s circle contains the Pool of Remembrance, a shallow pool 30 feet in diameter lined with black granite and surrounded by a grove of linden trees with benches. The trees are shaped to create a barrel effect, which allows the sun to reflect on the pool. Inscriptions list the numbers killed, wounded, missing in action, and held as prisoners of war, and a nearby plaque is inscribed: “Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.” Additionally, next to the information about the American soldiers is information about the United Nations troops.

The meaning of the memorial is perhaps most captured by a message embedded in one of its granite walls, which bears the simple message, inlaid in silver: “Freedom Is Not Free.”

KoreanWarVeteransMemorial02     KoreanWarVeteransMemorial03     KoreanWarVeteransMemorial04

KoreanWarVeteransMemorial07     KoreanWarVeteransMemorial05     KoreanWarVeteransMemorial06

KoreanWarVeteransMemorial12     KoreanWarVeteransMemorial09     KoreanWarVeteransMemorial11

 

The John Paul Jones Memorial

The John Paul Jones Memorial

The John Paul Jones Memorial near the Potomac River was my destination on this bike ride. Located in West Potomac Park near the National Mall, the memorial is situated at the terminus of 17th Street near Independence Avenue (MAP) on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin in southwest D.C.

The memorial consists of a 10-foot bronze statue by American sculptor Charles Henry Niehaus, mounted on a 15-foot marble pylon. On the sides of the monument are ducts, out of which water flows into a small pools on either side. And the back of the pylon includes a relief of Jones raising the U.S. flag on his ship, the Bonhomme Richard, an event which is believed to be the first time the flag was flown on an American warship. The memorial was dedicated on May 16, 1914, and is the oldest monument in Potomac Park. It is part of a group of fourteen statues in D.C. known collectively as the “American Revolution Statuary.” These statues are scattered across the city, mainly in squares and traffic circles, and are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

John Paul Jones was the United States’ first well-known naval hero of the Revolutionary War. Despite having made enemies among America’s political elites and never rising about the rank of Captain in the Continental Navy, his actions in British waters during the Revolution earned him an international reputation which persists to this day. Based on this, he is sometimes referred to as the “Father of the United States Navy”, an appellation he shares with Commodore John Barry. He is also widely remembered as the Captain of the USS Bonhomme Richard, who, in response to a taunt about surrender from the enemy captain of the HMS Serapis during Revolutionary War’s Battle of Flamborough Head, exclaimed, “I have not yet begun to fight!”

But despite his eventual success and fame, John Paul Jones came close on several occasions to losing out on his place in history. He had an inauspicious start in life, and there were several events early in his career that had the potential to not only end his career, but could have landed him in prison for the rest of his life.

John Paul (he added “Jones” later) was born to John Paul, Sr. and Jean McDuff on July 6, 1747 in Scotland. He started his maritime career as an apprentice at the age of 13, with many of his destinations being near Fredericksburg, in the Province of Virginia, where his older brother William Paul had settled. He worked his way up the ranks on a number of different sailing ships until, having become disgusted with the cruelty in the slave trade, he abandoned his prestigious position as first mate on a profitable ship named “Two Friends” while docked in Jamaica, and found his own passage back to Scotland.

After eventually obtaining another position on a different ship, John Paul’s maritime career unexpectedly took off when both the captain and a ranking mate suddenly died of yellow fever. He was able to navigate the ship back to a safe port, for which the vessel’s grateful Scottish owners rewarded him by making him the ship’s captain.

However, as quickly as his reputation had been earned, it was nearly destroyed during a subsequent voyage. John Paul viciously flogged one of his sailors, which resulted in accusations that his discipline was “unnecessarily cruel.”  When the disciplined sailor died a few weeks later, he was arrested and imprisoned for his involvement in the man’s death. After being released on bail, he fled Scotland.

Leaving Scotland behind, John Paul commanded a London-registered vessel named The Betsy, which he sailed to Tobago in the southern Caribbean and made a fortune engaging in commercial speculation. This ended after approximately 18 months, however, when he killed a member of his crew named Blackton with a sword in a dispute over wages. He would later claim that it was in self-defense but, nonetheless, fled Tobago to avoid the hangman’s noose.  Leaving his fortune behind, he fled to his brother’s home back in Fredericksburg.

It was at this time that John Paul began using the alias John Jones. At the suggestion of his brother, he began using the name John Paul Jones. Shortly after settling in North America, he went to Philadelphia and volunteered his services to the newly founded Continental Navy at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

One of the most recently dedicated of D.C.’s major national memorials is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and that was the destination of this bike ride.  The memorial opened to the public three years ago today, on August 22, 2011, after more than two decades of planning, fund-raising and construction.  A dedication ceremony for the memorial was originally scheduled for later that same week, and had the ceremony taken place it would have coincided with the 48th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech that King delivered on August 28, 1963, from the steps of The Lincoln Memorial.  Unfortunately, the dedication ceremony could not be held because of Hurricane Irene, and was rescheduled for later that fall.

The memorial is located on a four-acre plot of land in southwest D.C.’s West Potomac Park, and is situated on one of the most prestigious sites that was remaining near the National Mall, at the northwest corner of the Tidal Basin near The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.  It is situated on a sightline linking The Lincoln Memorial to the northwest and The Jefferson Memorial to the southeast. The official address of the monument is 1964 Independence Avenue (MAP), an address specifically assigned to symbolically commemorate the year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law.

The large centerpiece of the multi-faceted memorial is based on a soul-stirring line from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech: “Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”  The “Stone of Hope” is a 30-foot statue of a standing King, who is depicted with his arms folded in front of him, gazing over the Tidal Basin toward the horizon.  The sculpture was carved from 159 granite blocks that were assembled to appear as one singular piece.  The Stone of Hope seems to have emerged from within a large boulder behind it, representing the “Mountain of Despair,” which has been split in half as it gives way to the Stone of Hope.

The memorial also includes a 450-foot crescent-shaped inscription wall, made from granite panels, that is inscribed with 14 excerpts of King’s sermons and public addresses to serve as living testaments of his vision of America.  The earliest inscription is from the time of the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott in Alabama, and the latest is taken from his final sermon, delivered in D.C.’s National Cathedral just four days before his assassination in 1968.

Landscape elements of the Memorial include American elm trees, Yoshino cherry trees, liriope plants, English yew, jasmine and sumac.  And at the entrance to the Memorial, there are a bookstore and National Park Service ranger station which includes a gift shop, audio visual displays, touch-screen kiosks and more.

Like most other memorials, monuments, statues, and just about everything else in D.C., The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is not without controversy.  In fact, the memorial has been involved in or at the center of a couple of controversies.

One controversy had to do with an inscription found on the Stone of Hope.  Each side includes a statement attributed to King.  The first reads “Out of the Mountain of Despair, a Stone of Hope,” the quotation that serves as the basis for the monument’s design.  The words on the other side of the stone used to read, “I Was a Drum Major for Justice, Peace, and Righteousness.”   On first reading, it seems an odd choice considering the phrase “I have a dream” is found nowhere on the monument.  The drum major quote, as it was inscribed on the monument, is a paraphrased version of a longer quote by King: “If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.” The memorial’s use of the paraphrased version of the quote was heavily criticized as turning a conditional statement into a boast, which was in direct opposition to the meaning of his sermon about the evils of self-promotion from which the quote is taken.  Among the most vocal about this quote was the poet, Maya Angelou, who knew King, and said that the misquote makes King look like an “arrogant twit” and called for it to be changed, at whatever the cost.  The inscription was removed in August of last year.

The other controversy has to do with the King family demanding that “The Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation,” which oversees the memorial, pay licensing fees to use King’s name and likeness.  The issue of the fee originally delayed the building of the memorial.  The memorial’s foundation, beset by delays and a languid pace of donations, stated at the time that “the last thing it needs is to pay an onerous fee to the King family.”  And historian David Garrow, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his biography of King, said, “One would think any family would be so thrilled to have their forefather celebrated and memorialized in D.C. that it would never dawn on them to ask for a penny.” He added that King would have been “absolutely scandalized by the profiteering behavior of his children.”  In response to the criticism, the family pledged that any money derived from the memorial foundation would go back to the King Center’s charitable efforts.  Eventually, an agreement was reached in which the foundation has paid various fees to the King family, including a management fee of $71,700 back in 2003.  Additionally, in 2009, the Associated Press revealed that the King family had negotiated a $761,160 licensing deal with the foundation for the use of King’s words and image in fundraising materials for the memorial.

However, the controversies do not diminish the importance of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and it remains a lasting tribute to King’s legacy and serves as a monument to the freedom, opportunity and justice for which he stood.

MLK09     MLK01     MLK07

MLK02     MLK06     MLK10

MLK11     MLK10

Site of World's First Air Mail Service

Site of World’s First Air Mail Service

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

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

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

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

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

airmail03     Airmail01a.jpg

DCWWImemorial01

The District of Columbia War Memorial

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

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

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

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

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

DCWWImemorial02     DCWWImemorial03     dcwwimemorial02a

DCWWImemorial04     DCWWImemorial05     dcwwimemorial01a