Lafayette – the Frenchman that Americans loved

The General Marquis Gilbert de Lafayette was a key figure in American winning its independence. Lafayette blocked the escape route of the British ships at Yorktown, thus forcing Gen. Cornwallis to surrender to George Washington.

Lafayette stands atop a marble pedestal wearing civilian dress, but carrying a sword. He holds a cloak in his left arm while his right is outstretched, maybe to friends.

The woman below symbolizes American. She beckons Lafayette with a sword to implore him to fight for America.

On each side are two generals. On the right are Comte de Estaing and Grasse with an anchor indicating their French naval forces sent to help. On the left are Comte de Rochembeau and Chevalier de Portail with the cannon indicating their French army. On the rear side are two cherubs indicating the delight of the people.

The bronze statue is eight feet high and four feet wide, but the whole monument is 36 feet high and 20 feet wide.

Posted in Monuments and Statues | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Slow down to see Woodrow Wilson medallion

Wilson Bridge medallionNot often is a memorial meant to be seen at 60 miles per hour. In fact, I went by it for 52 years before discovering it’s not a dime.

The Woodrow Wilson Bridge connecting Maryland and Virginia is named after the U.S. president. The bridge opened in 1961 and included two aluminum medallions of the president that looks like a coin. When a new bridge opened in 2009, the medallions were placed on the new bridge. (Frankly, I would have sold naming rights to the new bridge to Verizon or some big corporation for $200 million to recover some of the $1 billion cost. Certainly they would love the constant mentions on traffic reports. No different than a sports facility.)

The medallions were created by artist Carl Pal Jennewein, a German-born son of a die engraver. He moved to New Jersey in 1915 to work for a company of architectural sculptors and commercial modelers. The award-winning designer is best known for marble sculptures at the Rayburn House Office Building, 13 Greek deities at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, four stone pylons at the 1939 World’s Fair representing the four elements, two Egyptian pylons at the Brooklyn Public Library entrance and the main entrance of the British Empire at Rockerfeller Square.

Posted in Monuments and Statues | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

James Garfield Memorial – my 6th cousin

The only thing I knew about James Garfield was he was once U.S. president. I would have struggled to write a fifth-grade report on him

But coming across Garfield’s memorial on the U.S. Capitol grounds intrigued me into learning more. Turns out he was shot three months into his presidency in 1881 by a failed job applicant and died three months later at age 50.

And you thought today’s economic times were tough.

The only clergy member to serve as president, Garfield is also the only person in U.S. history to be a Representative, Senator-elect and President-elect simultaneously. He was not only left-handed, but known to simultaneously write in Latin in one hand and in English with the other. (My handwriting looks like Latin, but is really English.) Garfield was related to a Mayflower passenger later convicted of murder.

Continue reading

Posted in Monuments and Statues | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Chess Players: It’s not over until it’s over

I’m telling you, the player on the left could still win this match. Come on, take the castle already. This game has been going on for an eternity.

Well, at least since 1983.

The Chess Players is one of those fun artworks that make people stop if not take photos. Two life-sized men are playing chess, neither having a great advantage. However, the older gentleman on the right holds the queen in his hand and showing a slight smile while the other looks sad. A key piece has been won and the game’s outcome will soon follow. But you know, if the other guy moved his castle . . .

American artist Lloyd Lillie actually modeled the two figures after family members. This right one is his father, the left his son despite the ages seeming the same barring close inspection.

The bronze artwork lies in John Marshall Park on 4th and C Sts. N.W. aside the Canadian embassy and just a short stroll from the court houses. Supposedly, the park is the perfect place for lawyers to play chess on their lunch hour, though I’ve never stumbled upon a live version.

Posted in Monuments and Statues | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Remembering one of NASA’s own

Bernard Lee Johnson

From George Washington to the moon all within a few feet.

Walking the path to colonial St. John’s Church has a historical marker saying the Episcopal church was erected in 1723 and our nation’s first president attended services there many times. The graveyard isn’t very big, but there’s a large horizontal marker with a rocket ship with the earth and the moon nearby where Bernard Lee Johnson was buried in 1979.  

Johnson was a nearby Fort Washington, Md. resident who worked for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as deputy budget and planning director in the office of manned space flight. After retiring in 1975, he co-owned nearby GI Liquors.

The graduate of Eastern High and George Washington University joined the Army Air Force during World War II. After working for the office of surgeon general and the Commerce Dept., Johnson spent 15 years with NASA during the Apollo missions.

Posted in Memorials | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

White House Visitors Center

Posted in Washington life | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Concert makes you stop

The ConcertI’ll admit to not knowing much about art, but I know what I like and “The Concert” by Dutch artist Gerrit Van Honthorst made me stop, sit and ponder.

The 1623 oil painting hangs in the National Gallery of Art, West Wing, falls into my favorite category of big in size yet intimate enough to get a personal read. Honthorst liked scenes of contrasting dark and light with big gestures. Here, we see a musical group whose outfits give Hornthorst a chance to use vibrant colors. The painting also shows that following a leader produces great results.

The best part of the National Gallery of Art is its free admission where most similar venues would charge at least $20 elsewhere. All part of your tax dollars at work.

Posted in Smithsonian | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Save George Washington, get a statue – Casimir Pulaski

Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski was a Polish count who came to America to fight for freedom. He once saved George Washington’s life, but is best known for teaching American troops the discipline needed to fight the mighty British troops.

Pulaski was known throughout Europe for his bravery and came to the U.S. in 1777 to continue fighting for the cause of freedom. Ben Franklin recommended to George Washington that Pulaski serve in the cavalry. In Pulaski’s first battle at Brandywine, he saved Washington from capture.

Pulaski was made a brigadier general in the cavalry. However, American troops didn’t like fighting under a foreign leader who didn’t speak English so Pulaski resigned from the unit and went to Valley Forge where Washington created a new cavalry of deserters and POWs for Pulaski to lead. Sadly, Pulaski was killed in the Battle of Savannah in 1779.

Ironically, the Revolutionary War hero is shown at the eastern corner of Freedom Plaza in a Polish military uniform with a long cape and a hat adorned with fur and feathers. His feet are in the stirrups and he holds the horse’s reins with both hands. The sculpture rests on an oval base decorated with a band of foliage and Greek key design. Wreathes flank the inscriptions which appear on the long sides of the base.

Erected in 1910 at a cost of $50,000, the bronze equestrian statue is 15 feet high, 12 feet wide. The granite base is 12 feet high and 15 feet wide.

Posted in Monuments and Statues | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lincoln Cottage still a great respite

Lincoln CottageI have a secret – I’d never been to the Lincoln Cottage before  taking a tour group.

And it’s better than expected.

Now I’ll leave the nuts and bolts to the website Lincolncottage.org. But a few things hit me during the one-hour tour that was expertly done.

Lincoln Cottage statue2The serenity of the grounds is still there nearly 150 years after Lincoln spent one-fourth of his presidency staying at the cottage. I always wondered how much difference could three miles have made, but if it does so now it must have been countryside then.

The thought of standing in rooms that Lincoln spent so much time is pretty cool. Really, how often can you do that?

Ford’s and Petersen House are great venues, but they’re where Lincoln died. The cottage is about where he lived.

It’s certainly a pleasant alternative during the government shutdown and even after the politicians come to their senses and everything reopens.

Posted in Abraham Lincoln | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A 3D map of town at your feet – Freedom Plaza

Freedom Plaza may be filled with skateboarding teenagers, lost tourists or protestors, but the Pennsylvania Ave. near 14th St. N.W. median is also a map of town’s original plan.

The L’Enfant Map detailing the 1791 plan by Washington’s first city planner Pierre L’Enfant is at your feet. With the white and black stone, it’s like being on a chess board of sorts as you can see how the streets were to be layed out. Maybe the first version of the Sims City game.

L’Enfant envisioned Pennsylvania Avenue as a great ceremonial street, the symbolic link between the Capitol (which he called the Congress’s House) and the White House (which he called the President’s House). Freedom Plaza’s open space reinforces this symbolic connection.

The upper map terrace has a grass lawn where the mall occurs and inlaid bronze plans of the White House and the Capitol located at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue. The inlays illustrate L’Enfant’s intention to have these two buildings balance each other and symbolize two main branches of government.

L’Enfant’s plan of Washington combines two orders of scale. The giant order is the diagonal avenues that sometimes terminate in a building or a monument. This order characterizes the federal scale of the city. The minor order is the rectangular grid pattern of the local structure of the city. There are quotes from famous people about the city carved into the paving stones that surround the L’Enfant Plan.

Posted in Monuments and Statues | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

We cannot tell a lie – GW’s birthplace is cool

GW Monument birthplaceMonumental Thoughts has a guest contributor – Megan Johnson. (Hey, we’re all for free labor.)

A sprawling stretch of land along Popes Creek, Va., isn’t all that different today from when George Washington entered the world 284 years ago – and that’s just the way the National Park Service likes it.

At the George Washington Birthplace National Monument, visitors are treated to talks with knowledgeable park rangers about this place the first president called home until the age of 3. On a plantation originally settled by John Washington, George’s great-grandfather, one of America’s forefathers was born along the waterfront in 1732.

GW birthplaceThough the original family home burned to the ground in a Christmas Day fire in 1779, an oyster shell outline marks where it once stood. Nearby is a memorial house representing similar styles of the era, added to the property in 1931. Park rangers offer tours throughout the day.

Today, the grounds consist of an obelisk one-tenth the size of the Washington Monument that honors him in Washington; an herb and flower garden with a gargantuan birdhouse; a burial ground with 32 members of the Washington family; and a colonial living farm with horses, cattle, poultry and more. The expansive property boasts many hiking trails with scenic views, and the visitor center has displays of 18th-century objects and paraphernalia. Watch a 14-minute video of Washington’s early life here before exploring on your own.

Bird watchers can be treated to plenty of action from wildlife soaring along the shores of Popes Creek where it meets the Potomac River. Relaxing on a wide, modern deck at the visitor center can be a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Photographers will rejoice in opportunities to capture the trees and animals on the property, especially as the seasons change. The beach near the visitor center is also accessible for wading and picnicking.

AnimalsThough the birthplace monument may not have enough to entertain young or active children, it’s very worth walking beneath the trees to imagine what Washington’s boyhood was like nearly 300 years ago. Tranquil, calm and quiet, the Birthplace Monument has many benches along the waterfront and tucked into the forest just beckoning visitors to pause and reflect.

One visit and you’ll understand why.

The George Washington National Birthplace Monument is located at 1732 Popes Creek Road, Colonial Beach, Virginia. The visitor center and grounds are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Restrooms and a gift shop are located in the visitor center, which has plenty of free parking. There is no fee to enter, but donations are accepted. For more information, visit their website or call 804-224-1732, ext. 227.

Posted in Memorials, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Giant pile of rocks dwarfed by the man underneath

Nick RoweWhat rocks atop graves means is the runaway most read post on a daily basis in the near three years of my blog.

Rocks are a Jewish tradition stemming from the Bible where Rebecca is buried along the road to Jerusalem by her family with the rocks deterring predators. Today, it’s a way of saying hello, I came by the grave. Americans have embraced the idea and also leave coins and medals.

I started noticing rocks atop a grave in Sec. 48 near the Tomb of the Unknowns about 100 feet from the top on the left side when taking the sidewalk from Crook’s Stairs. It’s the biggest pile of rocks by far I’ve seen. Finally, I stopped to see who “Rowe” was.

And it’s an amazing story.

Rowe headshotJames N. “Nick” Rowe was a U.S. Army lieutenant who was Vietnam prisoner of war from Oct. 29, 1963 when caught in an ambush to Dec. 31 1968 when killing his guard and escaping. Rowe was nearly shot by American troops in a helicopter thinking his clothes meant he was a Viet Cong soldier. He later wrote “Five Years to Freedom” about his imprisonment.

After leaving the Army in 1974, Rowe was recalled to duty in 1981 as a lieutenant colonel to create the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training program taught to high-risk personnel like Special Forces and aircrews. In 1987, Rowe was chief of the Army division of the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group helping Philippine forces counter the communist New People’s Army. In 1989, Rowe warned military leaders of planned assassinations of high-profile leaders, including himself. He was killed by a sniper on April 21, 1989 in Manila.

Rowe2The backside of his tombstone facing the sidewalk reads:

“So look up ahead at times to come,
despair is not for us;
We have a world and more to see,
while this remains behind.”

J.N. Rowe
1964

Posted in Arlington National Cemetery | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

St. John’s Church

Posted in Wordless Wednesday | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Hall family and the angel

Mary Ann Hall was a popular madam in Washington, running a bordello where the American Indian Museum now stands. It was said to be the classiest one in Washington during the Civil War.

Mary Ann and a sister are buried under the right contemplative statue at Congressional Cemetery while her mother and another sister are under the angel on the left.

Posted in Monuments and Statues | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Tomb sentinel

Posted in Arlington National Cemetery | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A tree grows in Alexandria

Posted in Washington life | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Honor flight at Tomb of the Unknowns

Posted in Arlington National Cemetery | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A champion in the ring – Joe Louis

Joe LouisYou’re busy trying to make the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns so you see an interesting grave but don’t stop. Well, stop on the way down the hill at Arlington National Cemetery because if nothing else one of the few water fountains on the grounds that work is nearby.

Joe “The Brown Bomber” Louis is buried at the bottom of the path in Section 7A by the benches and water fountain just below the Tomb of the Unknowns. He was heavyweight champion from 1937-49, including a 1938 victory over Max Schmeling to avenge a loss two years earlier.

Louis joined the U.S. Army in World War II, but didn’t see combat because military leaders feared the propaganda by Germans if the boxer was killed or captured. Instead, Louis raised millions of dollars while fighting for the troops.

Louis died in 1981. The large marker was partially funded by singer Frank Sinatra. Buried next to Louis is famed actor Lee Marvin, the tough colonel in “The Dirty Dozen” movie. “Pappy” Boyington, the World War II ace of the Pacific theater, is nearby.

Posted in Arlington National Cemetery | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Fixing big mistakes

Posted in Smithsonian | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Visit Mount Vernon

Posted in Mount Vernon | Tagged , , | Leave a comment