Remembering Nixon’s resignation

Two years ago, on June 17, 2012 to be precise, I posted this small vignette about the 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in. Now today is the 40th anniversary of Nixon’s resignation. August 9, 1974 was a momentous day in my family’s history. We moved from Connecticut to Florida that day. I was all of seven years old and even though I did not understand the specifics I understood that major changes for my parents, brother, sister, and me were underway. It was probably for the best that I didn’t all that was happening; my parents marital troubles were the reason for the relocation and they divorced the following year. In my mind the Nixon resignation and the relocation are forever linked.

Today is the 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in. I have seen surprisingly little about this in the news. I suppose a reason is that it was never the break-in, but the cover-up, that was considered the big crime. It could be, too, that the Watergate scandal has reached that intermediary stage where it is no longer a current event and not quite yet history. Demographically, Washington has changed a great deal in the past several decades as well. Gentrification has brought many younger people–young twenty- and thirty-somethings–who are too busy building their careers to think about it. We know the least about the decade just before and the decade after we are born.

The area around the Watergate Building Complex is off the beaten path and visited by very few tourists taking in the sights. We ourselves go to DC fairly frequently and I must say we have never gone out of our way to see it. Cultural Tourism DC is planning to install signage in the neighborhood. I wonder if the 50th anniversary of this event will be a bigger deal. We’ll know just a short decade from now.

(image/Watergate Building Complex, Allen Lew)

The monument to Washington’s Great War veterans

The District of Columbia War Memorial
The District of Columbia War Memorial

I took this photograph of the Great War Memorial a few months back.  It was restored a few years ago and looks fabulous. As you can tell by the image however, it does not get too much pedestrian traffic. That it is a tad off the beaten path explains part of it. Still, that can’t be the whole reason. It is less remote than it was even just three years ago when the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was built; one walks through this general area when passing from the Mall to the MLK statue or vice versa. Even with the extra foot traffic, people do not seem inclined to stop and look. Maybe that will change during the Centennial.


I met historian Mark Levitch at the World War One Centennial Commission Trade Show in June. Since then I have contributed a few memorials to his World War I Memorial Inventory Project with a few more in the hopper. Earlier this week Mark was interviewed by CBS News about the project. Check out the video here.

Washington then and now

The Boltbus has been a part of my and the Hayfoot’s life since we met six years ago. At first it was her going to meet a friend for the weekend. Then, as we knew each other better we would both go down to see the sites. It was in a Washington hotel room that I proposed. Now, with her working in the area one of us is on the bus every few weeks. It is part of our everyday life.

One thing I always note when the bus is approaching DC is how there are two Washingtons: the official one that tourists and public officials inhabit and the inner-city version one sees entering town. Like New York City Washington has gentrified a great deal over the past 15-20 years. The Boltbus itself is a product of that gentrification. Still, there are pockets here and there where one sees signs of the civil unrest of the 1960s. No, I am not old enough to remember the 1968 riots there and elsewhere, but I have been around enough to remember when the wounds were still raw. It is something I think about every time the bus is pulling in.

Here is some incredible, recently discovered film footage courtesy of media company CriticalPast. Looking closely at some of the additional footage, I noticed that some of the soldiers were from the Big Red One, which until a few years perviously had been stationed at Governors Island.


The other Roosevelt Island

When in Washington over spring break the Hayfoot and I went to Roosevelt Island. This out-of-the-way site is something most tourists never see, which is understandable given that it is a little difficult to get to. Still, as the crow flies it is only a mile or so from the Lincoln Memorial. Roosevelt Island rests in the Potomac River and can be reached from the Roslyn stop on the Blue Line. The Iwo Jima statue is at the same stop but we missed that this time around.

Roosevelt Island sign

The Potomac River
The Potomac River


Look closely through the trees and you can see the skyscrapers of Arlington, Virginia from the island. Landscape architecture is fascinating because the designer must be thinking decades down the line as to what his creation will look like when the trees and foliage fully mature.

One of Roosevelt Island’s charms is its tranquility so close to the Greater DC sprawl. The degree of difficulty in reaching the island is intentional. The planners wanted people to visit but also intended it to be a refuge. Believe me, you have to want to get here. Again, this is just a long toss from the Lincoln Memorial and the other sites on the Mall.

It may seem like pristine nature, but the island and memorial were a planned environment built by the Roosevelt Memorial Association in the 1930s. The RMA purchased the island from the Washington Gas Light Company for $364,000 and donated it to the American people in 1932.

KM looking at TR

Paul Manship designed the statue. It is more severe in photos than in person. The surrounding tress soften the subject’s commanding size and pose. Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. created the ninety acre island’s landscaping.

The statue came several decades after the memorialization of the island itself. The Depression, World War II, and other issues took precedence over the statue’s  creation. Lyndon Johnson dedicated the statue on 27 October 1967 with Alice Roosevelt Longworth in attendance.

LBJ and Alice Roosevelt Longworth, October 1967
LBJ and Alice Roosevelt Longworth at the statue dedication, October 1967

This monolith is one of four. Each notes an attribute considered important by Theodore Roosevelt.

Our only mistake was not bringing lunch. I have a feeling we’ll be back come summer.

(LBJ and Alive Roosevelt Longworth image from Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library. Dickinson State University)

Not free, but a good home

I was on DuPont Circle on my way to meet the Hayfoot for dinner the other night when, to my great shock, I noticed that the Patterson Mansion is on the selling block. The mansion has been the home of the Washington Club for the past several decades. Apparently the cost of upkeep along with the prospect of a big payout proved too much to resist for the members of the women’s club. And who can blame them? They stand to make $25-$30 million.

Robert and Elinor (Nellie) Patterson built the home at the turn of the twentieth century when DuPont Circle was transforming into the hub of political and social life in the capitol. Stanford White was the architect. In the decade and a half prior to the Great War a great deal of diplomatic work was carried out in houses like this one in settings formal, informal, and semi-formal.

Here are a few pics.

I guess it should not be surprising, but I did not know that Sotheby's sold real estate.
I guess it should not be surprising, but I did not know that Sotheby’s sold real estate.
A detail of the stately structure
A detail of the stately structure
The 26,000 square foot mansion as seen from DuPont Circle itself
The 26,000 square foot mansion as seen from DuPont Circle itself

The frozen tundra of the National Mall

I was on the Mall today and am here to say it was COLD, and with a bone chilling wind to add insult to injury. I must say it kept the tourists away, even on MLK Jr. weekend. Hours later my ears are still ringing.

Last March I took a pic of what was then the hole that will eventually become the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Well, ten months later we still have a hole but it is starting to fill up.

Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, January 2014
National Museum of African American History and Culture construction site, January 2014

I have no doubt that they will do a great job. A few months ago the Smithsonian folks were at the Brooklyn Museum appraising people’s artifacts. Earlier this month they were doing the same thing in Fort Lauderdale while I was down there. It is going to be a varied and disparate collection. The only thing that concerns me is that the Mall, especially this part of the Mall, is on low ground and is susceptible to flooding.

DC doings

The entranceway of Alice Roosevelt Longworth's Dupont Circle house
The entranceway of Alice Roosevelt Longworth’s Dupont Circle house

I am sorry for the lack of posts this week, but I have been busy. I am in Washington doing research at the Library of Congress for my Joseph Hawley book. The Hayfoot and I have also been hitting some Theodore Roosevelt-related sites. They have not been posted yet, but I am writing a series of posts for the Roosevelt Birthplace Facebook page about various Roosevelt-in-Washington places. Look for those later this week on the TRB Facebook page.

We intentionally chose three in the Dupont Circle area to make it easier logistically. When we visited Alice Roosevelt Longworth’s house (2009 Massachusetts Avenue, NW), a dour lady from the Washington Legal Foundation, the site’s current occupant, told us it is not a public space and shut the door in our faces. Oh well. We had a good laugh about it.

My table at the Library of Congress
My table at the Library of Congress

The book is very much in the nascent stages but it is finally starting to gel. Looking at reels and reels of microfilm is exhausting but the hardest part was realizing the scope and tome of the book. I had that epiphany the other night and when I did the load got a lot lighter. I guess the whole thing from start to finish will be a process with forward and backward steps. It is amazing what can happen when you just start.

Working on this book project and writing content for the TRB website, along with my volunteering duties at the site, are going to be my intellectual pursuits for 2014. Despite a few crises of confidence it has been so far so good.

Capitol Dome gets facelift

The video above gives an overview of the work currently underway to repair the many cracks in the U.S. Capitol dome. I had not realized that so much work was needed. The undertaking is a joint project of two construction companies that have worked on the Martin Luther King, Jr. monument, WW2 Memorial, and the National Gallery of Art, among other things. I hope the foundation of the building is structurally sound. It would seem everything else is for nought unless that were the case. A good book on the Capitol if one were looking for something to read this winter is Guy Gugliotta’s Freedom’s Cap: The United States Capitol and the Coming of the Civil War. If nothing else, you will be comforted by its “the more things change, the more they stay the same” lesson.

The Frederick Douglass house

The other day I mentioned that the Hayfoot and I took a Civil War metro trip to the Frederick Douglass House in Washington DC.. Here are a few pics.

Cedar Hill, the home of Frederick Douglass
Cedar Hill, the home of Frederick Douglass

Fittingly given the man who lived in it, the house sits on this high ground. Douglass and his wife, Anne Murray, moved here in September 1877. Anne died and Frederick lived here with his second wife until his death in February 1895. He died in the house. The National Park Service gained jurisdiction of Cedar Hill in 1962 during the Civil War Centennial.

The Strawfoot at Cedar Hill

The Hayfoot has a knack for taking photos when I am unaware. The visit to the Douglass house bookended neatly with our visit to the Lincoln Cottage in late May. They were two of the highlights of the summer.

It takes some effort and perseverance to visit these more off-the-beaten-path places in the Capital. So many people just do the Mall and leave it at that. There is so much else to see if one is willing to put in the time and effort.

The Capitol Building from the front yard
The Capitol Building from the front yard

As at the Lincoln Cottage, one gets a view of the Capitol Building from the grounds.

It is best to get tickets in advance for either site to make sure you get the tour of the houses; the interiors ar accessible only by guided tour. At both places the interpretation was top notch. As a volunteer myself with the NPS, I can say that a good interpreter makes all the difference.

This was the view from the second story window. You can see part of the Anacostia neighborhood in the distance. This trip was doubly special because my mother was born in the neighborhood. My grandfather worked in the nearby Washington Navy Yard during the Depression and Second World War.

Visiting here had the added effect of getting me to renew my Ancestry account, which expired at the beginning of the summer. These past few nights I have been researching my family history while listening to the pennant races on MLB TV. I just loved that my mother lived so close to here.

Douglass's man cave
Douglass’s man cave

This stone cabin out back is where the great human rights leader came to get away from the grandkids and endless line of visitors who hoped for an audience with him. There was an extensive personal library in the house as well. I don’t think I fully understood Douglass the Intellectual until coming here. There is no substitute for visiting historical sites.

the grounds
the grounds

This photograph in the rear gives a sense of the size of the grounds. For an African American to own such a property in the nineteenth century was remarkable.

Frederick Douglass, 1818-1895
Frederick Douglass, 1818-1895

This was inside the visitors center. The NPS staff was knowledgable and helpful. My one criticism is that the film, which appeared to be from the early 1980s, is a tad dated. Hopefully they will remedy that in the future. The Douglass bicentennial, a short five years away, seems a good opportunity to do so.

When I was a graduate student I was taking a course on the Gilded Age and asked the professor what he considered the best Douglass biographies. He said there were a few competent ones, but that an authoritative one is still waiting to be written. We will see what happens in the next few years.