Capitol pediment: The Progress of Civilization

Capitol pediment

The Senate portico’s eastern front (facing the sunrise) is about America and its conquests. Frankly, the Capitol pediment pretty easy symbolism to decipher.

According to James M. Goode’s fine book “Washington Sculpture,” the woman in the middle is America standing on a rock. The sun rising at her feet as the enlightenment of progress. The woodsman is clearing a forest while an Indian seems to show despair that the whites are taking over his lands. On the left, a Revolutionary soldier with his hand on sword shows readiness. The merchant sitting on goods while touching a globe shows commerce and trade. The two boys are teacher show the future while the mechanic and his tools represent trade.

The marble pediment is 60 feet long and 12 feet high. It was sculpted by Thomas Crawford in 1863.

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Vietnam Wall remembrances

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The ‘Journalist’ of Arlington National Cemetery


Section 7A of Arlington National Cemetery is one of the smaller areas just below the Tomb of the Unknowns, but it certainly has a number of famous folks. Joe Louis, Pappy Boyington and Lee Marvin were buried just steps apart.

Then I saw a stone that said “Journalist” on the back. Well, since I’ve been a journalist since 1978 I walked over to see who it was.

John Vincent Hinkel was a U.S. Army colonel who died in 1986 at age 82. He was a newspaper man and public relations counselor who was a constant lecturer at the cemetery and wrote “Arlington: Monument to Heroes” in 1965. Hinkel was also president of the Society of Natives of the District of Columbia.

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A General stone

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The Vietnam Wall

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Thoughts on visiting Europe

Eight countries, 170,000-plus steps, planes, trains, boats, subways and cars. We pretty much conquered Europe over 16 days.

I’m just going to take it one thought at a time.

  • At the risk of sounding like an ugly American, my wife and I could have never used local money or spoken a foreign word if we wanted. Everybody speaks at least some English and most seem fluent. Indeed, the hardest people to understand were the British. As for Copenhagen, Denmark, Helsinki, Finland, St. Petersburg, Russia, Gdansk, Poland, Stockholm, Sweden, Reykjavik, Iceland and a small seaport in Germany, communicating was not hard. And, everybody takes euros, even the Russians. Some took U.S. dollars, though I never tried it. Mostly, everyone pays by credit card for everything. A Swedish friend said, “The only people that pay cash are old people and criminals.” And, uh, tourists.  
  • My third-grade teacher said we needed to learn the metric system because the rest of the world is using it. Well, yes and no. You need to know meters and Celsius on a broad level. A sign saying a train was 1,300 meters away left me uncertain and it was a whole lot farther than I thought. But otherwise teach, we’re still good with feet and Fahrenheit.
  • Europe loves American music, but mostly it’s from either the 1950s or about 10 years ago.
  • A couple people asked me about the Redskins totally out of the blue.
  • A couple people commented on Trump. But, whatever, I’m on vacation.
  • I didn’t get a chance to try caviar in Russia. I later saw it in a tube in Iceland and figured that can’t be good. No one else at the hotel breakfast bar tried it, either.
  • A waiter in Iceland suggested I try horse on the appetizers. I said, “Like the ones you ride?” Yes. Hard pass on that, though I tried horse once about 40 years ago. Really didn’t try much for new foods since we ate on the cruise ship a lot.
  • The Baltic Sea is cold, especially over open waters. You need a serious jacket even in the cities where it’s 50s and 60s because an icy breeze will cut you in two.
  • Passing through Russian customs was no big deal. I was more worried about telling U.S. customs agents I visited Russia and being spirited away to an interrogation room. Passing through customs in England, Denmark, Iceland and the U.S. was so much quicker than my last international trip years ago. Dulles International Airport was a breeze.
  • Everywhere we went, the people were nice, streets were clean and cities seemed safe. Nothing bad to say.
  • I heartily recommend Hop On, Hop Off busses to get a good feel for a city. We rode them in London, Copenhagen and Reykjavik.
  • What was our favorite experience? Just too hard to pick, but the one city I’d like to see again would be Stockholm.
  • Ranking the cities is tough. The top three are clear favorites, the rest are pretty even.

1. Stockholm. Our old friend Marit made it more fun despite 17,000 steps and the only rain we saw on the trip. It’s a nice blend of old and new.

2. London. It was our third trip and we found new things like Henry the 8th’s castle. Not as big as I would have thought, but gave a real feel for what it was like.

3. Copenhagen. There are more bicyclists than cars during rush hour and bikes get their own lanes. They say the Danes are the happiest people on earth. It was a fun town. Don’t miss Tivoli Gardens, the world’s oldest theme park. Eat dinner on the pirate ship.

4. Helsinki. The Fins keep life simple and it’s an easy city to get around. The church of rocks, blasted right out of boulders, was very cool.

5. St. Petersburg. The Russians tried to beat Paris at its own architectural game and seemingly did so, but also lots of parks and music.

6. Wandemunde, Germany. A little seaside port for cruise tourists that frankly bored me.

7. Gdansk. It’s like seeing what happened to abused Soviet satellite countries left behind. Seeing Lech Walesa’s house was cool, though.

8. Reykjavik. Sorry, it’s no more than a day’s layover. The Golden Circle is nothing you can’t see here in the U.S. with geysers, volcanic areas and waterfalls. The Blue Lagoon is cool, but after a few minutes you wonder what’s the big deal. Insanely expensive, too.

Well, that’s a start for now. Let me know if you want to see the eight-hour slide show.

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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.

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Happy 4th of July

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The memorial FDR really wanted

Name the five greatest U.S. presidents and Franklin Delano Roosevelt should make the list. Ironically, he received the least striking memorial until a second was built in 1997.

But that’s the way Roosevelt wanted it.

Shortly before his 1945 death while barely into his fourth term, Roosevelt told Justice Felix Frankfurter to erect a basic white monument the size of his desk. It wasn’t erected until 1965, but still sits by the National Archives along Pennsylvania Ave. N.W. The white marble cost $12,000 and paid for by admirers.

Ironically a commission began planning the larger memorial in 1955, 10 years before this memorial opened.

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‘Heros of the Independance’ at DAR

Heros of the Independance

This bronze bas relief hangs at the Daughters of the Revolution in Washington. The ‘Heros of the Independance” is by David D’Angers in 1905. It was donated by his daughter Helene.

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National Cathedral Bishop’s Garden

Bishop’s Garden

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The ‘Price of Freedom’ is never cheap

Price of FreedomIt doesn’t take long to encounter the first example of Arlington National Cemetery’s reason for being.

Steps from the visitors center’s west doors most people use to see the cemetery lies “The Price of Freedom” sculpture. The 12-foot, 1,800-pound bronze marker was moved from the middle of the visitor’s center.

The three-year-old sculpture by Greg Wyatt includes a globe, guardian angel caring for a dying soldier, five soldiers depicting different armed services of World War II, a World War II nurse, Rosie the Riveter and 20 plaques of the biggest battles of the World War II.

Wyatt’s work is commonplace around Washington. The New Yorker has eight Shakespearean sculptures in the Folger Shakespeare Library, four in the Georgetown University Medical Center and “Soaring American Eagle” at the State Department.

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The Watergate Steps to nowhere along the Potomac

It was supposed to be a staircase to heaven, but turned into a  helluva waste.

The Watergate Steps between the Potomac River and the Lincoln Memorial was built in 1932 as part of the Arlington Memorial Bridge complex. According to a Historic American Engineering Record for the National Park Service, the steps were to be a watergate where boats could tie up and dignitaries welcomed to the city.

It never happened. By July 14,1935, concerts began on a floating barge with the National Symphony Orchestra the first to perform. Crowds as large as 12,000 watched on the steps until 1965 when noise from planes approaching National Airport proved too overwhelming.

The 40 granite steps are 230 feet wide at river level and 206 feet at the top. You’ll often see joggers running the stairs and bike riders resting.

Ohio Dr. separates the stairs and river. Seems there was a big fight over the road with some thought to a tunnel, but eventually the road was kept.

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Wordless Wednesday: National Cathedral

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The Warren Court

Supreme Court

Sculptor Phillip Ratner once taught school in Washington for 23 years. Now he’s one of the nation’s more respected multimedia artists.

Ratner has five sculptures at the Statue of Liberty, 40 at Ellis Island and others at
the Smithsonian, Library of Congress and U.S. Supreme Court. Shown above is his clay sculpture of the Warren Court shown on the ground floor of the Supreme Court.

A plaque next to the sculpture reads:

“I moved into a little house in Takoma Park [in 1964] and had no room to set up a studio so one day I got to playing around with clay and the first thing I did were the Warren Court heads.”

According to Ratner, he depicted Justice Potter Stewart with his hands clasped together and looking upward in reference to his sole dissent in School District of Abington Township v. Schempp 374 U.S. 203 (1963) in which the Court had found that prayer in public schools was unconstitutional.

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Volta Bureau remembers Alexander Graham Bell

Volta LaboratoryIt has been known as the Bell Carriage House, Bell Laboratory, Volta Bureau and Alexander Graham Bell Laboratory.

No matter. The Volta Laboratory is a National Historic Landmark for helping the hearing impaired.

Built in 1893 by Charles Summer Tainter and Bell’s cousin Chichester Bell, the towering yellow brick and sandstone building at 35th St. NW in Georgetown, was created for the creation of technologies to help the deaf.

Alexander Graham Bell gained the first patent for the telephone in 1876, but the son and grandson of speech teachers also trained teachers for the deaf. Bell used 50,000 francs awarded by the French government to found Volta Associates that concentrated on recording and transmitting and recording sound. The group then built the Volta Lab for the business.

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Buffalo Dancer II offers prayers

Buffalo Indian IIGeorge Rivera described his bronze statue of a Buffalo Dancer as showing Native Americans showing respect to the buffalo that provide their sustenance through dance. It’s the first statue of an American Indian on the National Mall.

The Pueblo of Pojoaque governor created four 12-foot statues with one coming to the National Museum of the American Indian in 2009. Located to the side of the main entrance, Buffalo Dancer II took eight months to create and came 10 years after Rivera made the first model.

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Strike up the band for John Philip Sousa

You may not know the man, but you know his music.

John Philip Sousa was known as “The March King” for his snappy marching music like “The Stars and Stripes Forever (official march of the U.S.) and “The Semper Fidelis” (official march of the U.S. Marine Corps.)

Sousa2Sousa apprenticed with the U.S. Marine Band at age 14 for seven years after his father feared Sousa would join a circus band. The Washington native spent his life conducting and writing marches, including 12 years conducting the Marine Band, and inventing the sousaphone that’s like a tuba. Sousa served in the Navy during World War I and later led the Sousa Band to 15,000 performances until dying in 1932 at age 77.

The grave has a marble bench at the top of a family plot in Congressional Cemetery along with with a marble stone for his plot.

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Wordless Wednesday: Zigzagging downtown

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Allies in War at American Indian museum

Allies in WarWar makes strange bedfellows.

Allies in War, Partners in Peace is a bronze statue by Edward E. Hlavka that is in the American Indian museum. Gen. George Washington is joined by Oneida diplomat Oskanondonha and Polly Cooper, an Oneida Indian who helped starving troops at Valley Forge in 1777-78.

The turtle, wolf and bear (not shown in this photo) depict the three Oneida clans. The statue was created in 2004.

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