At 100, the Cherry Trees: Enduring and Fragile Sign of Spring

This spring marks the 100-year anniversary of Japan’s gift of cherry trees to beautify the Tidal basin and National Mall. This was one of the better years of perfect weather for the blossoms, though they came too early for most. They are the official sign of spring and also the beginning of the tourist season in Washington. Their clouds of pink blossoms offer a brilliant picture that is quite different from the project that faltered many times along the way.   The plan to have cherry trees in and around the Mall came from a Washington socialite who worked hand-in-hand with President Taft’s wife -- First Lady Helen "Nellie" Taft -- to get the trees here from Japan, both as a symbol of our two countries’ friendship and as a way to beautify the swampy, derelict Mall area. But the sacred trees, called Sakura in Japan, went through a series of mishaps which very nearly killed all these ambitious plans. When the first shipment of 90 trees arrived and were planted, they turned out to be the wrong variety and had to be dug up. Then a shipment of 2,000 trees arrived as a gift from the government of Japan, but when the Department of Agriculture inspected the trees, they were found to be diseased, so President Taft himself ordered them to be burned in huge pyres. The governments exchanged letters, and the deeply embarrassing incident was fixed diplomatically.   Two years later, 3,000 disease-resistant cherry trees arrived and with great ceremony, were planted and thrived to the delight of the whole city. Fifty years after that, when Lady Bird Johnson beautified the city with her pocket parks, the government of Japan sent 3,800 more to be planted around the Washington Monument.   These trees have always brought an emotional response from Washingtonians. In 1938, during construction of the Jefferson Memorial, workers started to clear some of the cherry trees for the construction site, and an angry group of women protestors chained themselves to the endangered trees to stop them from being cut down. The government intervened and promised to replace any trees that had to come down.   While the blossoming trees look tranquil, they are very high-maintenance. They last a maximum of 30 to 50 years, so the government is constantly replacing dying trees. The heavy limbs are susceptible to wind, hail and snow storms, and these damaged trees also have to be periodically replaced.   In 1912, during the ceremony of the tree planting, the Japanese ambassador predicted, “Almost all the world is at peace today, and there will be peace for thousands of tomorrows. War has had its day.” Of course, that’s not how things turned out, and during World War II, Washingtonians took to calling the cherry trees “Oriental” instead of “Japanese.”   Each spring, Washingtonians wait and worry, because they can remember years when the buds and blossoms froze or were decimated in wind and sleet storms. In Japan, and for the last 100 years in Washington, the clouds of blossoming trees which appear magically almost overnight, symbolize the precariousness of nature and of our own existence, all the things that are most important and over which we have the least control.   Donna Evers is the owner and broker of Evers & Co. Real Estate, the largest woman-owned and -run real estate firm in the Washington area, the proprietor of historic Twin Oaks Tavern Winery in Bluemont, Va., and a devoted student of Washington history. E-mail her at Devers@Eversco.com

Riding through Washington

Captured in bronze, forever surveying the field of action and gearing up for battle, the Civil War generals are with still us. They are, of course, all Union generals. The brilliant Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson are not here because “to the victor goes the spoils”. Also, to the sculptor goes the spoils, since many of these projects were competitions with good pay for the winning artist. One of the most dramatic statues is of Philip Sheridan, whose action pose dominates Sheridan Circle on Massachusetts Avenue. “Little Phil” as he was known to his troops was indeed short and had long arms, which prompted President Lincoln to remark that Sheridan’s arms were so long that if his ankles itched, he wouldn’t even have to bend down to scratch them. Cast in bronze by Gutzon Borglum in 1908, Sheridan sits astride his faithful horse, Rienzi, who took him through 85 battles, including the one portrayed here. Sheridan had left his men in the Shenandoah Valley to attend to matters in Winchester, when Early attacked and almost won the day. Sheridan rode hard for twenty miles to get to his troops, saying, “if I had been with you this morning, boys, this would not have happened.” In the statue, he is shown bending down and waving his hat at his men, urging them on in battle. His success in the Valley campaign, coupled with Sherman’s success in Georgia, is credited with turning the tide for the Union’s victory. Another diminutive general, George McClellan, was the Commander of the Army of the Potomac from the beginning of the war in 1861 to November 1862. Many historians argue that he should have been removed a lot sooner, because of his recurrent reluctance to send his soldiers into battle. Lincoln said he had a case of “the slows,” but kept him on for almost two years, because he was a great strategist and an even better recruiter. The reluctant general, however, thought a lot of himself, as evidenced in his letters to his wife, where he frequently describes himself as the savior of the nation. This is also clear in his equestrian statue by sculptor Frederick MacMonnies, at the intersection of Connecticut Avenue and Columbia Road, where McClellan sits squarely on his horse, chin up and right hand placed confidently on his hip. At Pennsylvania Avenue and Seventh Street, the tall majestic statue of General Winfield Scott Hancock pays tribute to his victory at the Battle of Gettysburg, where he continued to lead his men successfully against a gigantic Confederate assault, even after being shot off his horse. On Thomas Circle, the beautiful statue of General George H. Thomas shows him sitting at ease, pulling the reins with on hand, holding his horse’s head high and surveying the field of battle, probably also capturing him in one of his finest moments, at the Battle of Chickamauga. The leader of the infamous march to the sea, William Tecumseh Sherman, is found on the elaborate monument at the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and Fifteenth Street. The bold general has one hand on the reins and the other holding his field glasses. He has probably just looked toward his goal of reaching the sea, ready to destroy everything in his path if it would bring the Union victory. Dominating McPherson Square, and portrayed also with binoculars in hand and uniform scruffy from his and Sherman’s long march, is the statue of General James Birdseye McPherson. His statue was cast from Confederate cannons captured in Atlanta. At Logan Circle, the statue of John A. Logan sits on horseback with his sword in hand, commanding a view of the beautiful residential circle where he himself lived for so many years, and where he got the idea of preserving one day a year to honor the war dead, the special day we call Memorial Day. Finally, there is the largest and most important Civil War monument of all on the east end of the Mall honoring Ulysses S. Grant, the general who was able to bring the Union to victory and the war to a close. In a greatcoat and broad brimmed hat that perpetually keeps his eyes in shadow, Grant sits calmly and impassively on his horse, Cincinnatus, among the two sets of massive statuary honoring the cavalry and artillery soldiers. This ambitious project was the work of a little-known sculptor, Henry M. Shrady. As James M. Goode says in his book, “Washington Sculpture”, in 1902, when Shrady won the competition over 23 other well-known artists for the $250,000 project, his competitors demanded an investigation. Nevertheless, he ended up with the job and devoted the next twenty years of his life to the creating the monument, which was brilliantly executed with exquisite and painstaking attention to detail. But, when the dedication of the monument took place in 1922, Shrady was not there to take a bow. He died two weeks earlier from the strain and exhaustion of having to complete a project of such astounding magnitude. Donna Evers, devers@eversco.com, is the owner and broker of Evers & Co. Real Estate, the largest woman-owned and run real estate firm in the Washington area; the proprietor of Twin Oaks Tavern Winery in Bluemont, Va.; and a devoted student of Washington history.

Reading Lincoln

Like the cathedrals of Europe, many of our monuments in Washington are rich with symbolism, and can be “read,” especially the great favorite of both residents and tourists, the Lincoln Memorial. This majestic monument took nearly 50 years from its inception to its dedication, and one of the biggest problems was site selection. For much of its early history, the National Mall was nearly empty and fairly swampy. In fact, the actual site for the Lincoln Memorial was under water up until shortly before it was chosen. It was only after the Army Corps of Engineers dredged the river to deepen it and deposited the silt on the shore, that the area where the memorial now stands was created. When this location was first proposed, the then Speaker of the House Joseph Cannon said that he would never let the memorial be erected in that “g---d--- swamp”. However, after the area was planted and landscaped, it began to look like a real possibility. It lined up beautifully across the Mall from Congress, just as Pierre l’Enfant would have wished it. The architect Henry Bacon was chosen to build the memorial and his friend, Daniel Chester French was selected to create the stature of Lincoln. Bacon designed the building with the Parthenon in mind and the 36 columns of the structure represent the 36 states that made up the newly reunited Union at the end of the Civil War. The states’ names are inscribed over the tops of the columns and above them are all the states added up to the time of the memorial’s dedication in 1922. The three-chambered monument is embellished with eagles and wreaths, symbolizing bravery and victory, as well as cypress trees, which stand for eternity and it is decorated with marble from Colorado, Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia, limestone from Indiana and granite from Massachusetts, incorporated into the monument to symbolize the union of states.  The statue of Abraham Lincoln is 19-feet tall and 19-feet wide, which creates the overwhelming impression of the solid resolution President Lincoln maintained to preserve the Union above all. French spent years studying photos of Lincoln, so he could depict him as he looked during the Civil War. His large head is bent slightly forward and his sunken eyes seem to look down at the people parading in front of the statue, and at the same time, they look out over the Mall toward Congress. His large hands rest on the square arms of the massive ceremonial chair decorated with ancient Roman emblems of authority and draped with the flag, another reminder of the union. Lincoln’s one hand is clenched to show strength, and the other is open to show compassion. Legend has it that the back of Lincoln’s head is actually a profile of Robert E Lee, looking backward at his former home, the Custis-Lee mansion in Arlington Cemetery. The National Park Service discredits that story as well as the much more believable tale that Lincoln’s left hand is finger spelling an “A” and his right hand an “L”. This is credible because Daniel French had already designed the statue in front of Gallaudet University which shows teacher Thomas Gallaudet signing the letter “A” for student Alice Cogswell. Furthermore, it was Lincoln who approved the bill that made Gallaudet the first college for deaf people, and finally, French knew sign language and used it often since his own son was deaf.  It is appropriate that there should be mystery surrounding the statue of Lincoln, because it is one of the most inspirational in the city. The memorial is one large homage to the union of the states and one of its beautiful murals celebrates the Emancipation Proclamation. However, the memorial dedication ceremony in 1922 was presented to a racially segregated audience. The eternally patient expression that French managed to carve into Lincoln’s face conveys the feeling that he understood all too well the irony of the situation.  After all, here was a man who was able to convey the necessity of the terrible sacrifices of war to save the union of our country in the ten sentences that make up the Gettysburg Address, whose words carved in stone share the sanctuary with him. Donna Evers, devers@eversco.com, is the owner and broker of Evers & Co. Real Estate, the largest woman owned and run real estate firm in the Washington Metro area; the proprietor of Twin Oaks Tavern Winery in Bluemont, Va.; and a devoted student of Washington area history.

Those Were the Days

The party scene in Washington changes with different administrations, and each presidency has a subtle but important influence on its degree of fun or formality. Betty Beale’s memoir, “Power at Play,” leaves the reader with an overwhelming wave of nostalgia for the good old days, because that’s how she portrays the period of four decades surrounding the Truman through Reagan administrations, when she worked as a society columnist for the Washington Star. At the peak of her popularity, Beale’s columns were reprinted in omore than 90 newspapers across the U.S. Beale’s era ended fewer than 20 years ago, but her stories of Washington society seem long ago and far away. It may have been that people had less money and fewer parties to attend during that time. It may also be that fewer wealthy women worked, and they considered that their job as a hostess was as important as their husband’s job in the upper echelons of the federal government. In any event, Beale chronicled her era with wit and intelligence. She was born into a prominent Washington family, which gave her entrée into society. During her 43-year tenure at the Star, she attended dozens of state dinners and thousands of parties with kings and congressmen, sometimes up to three or four in a single day. Beale was gracious, but she was also ambitious and spent her party time looking for “newsmakers” to talk to. She also had a well-known “secret” affair with Adlai Stevenson, and the demure way in which she discusses their relationship lets you know just how different that era was. Nevertheless, she was playful and fun. She wrote a column about JFK’s press secretary, Pierre Salinger, trying to tell about toddler Caroline Kennedy’s new kitten. The reporters pressed him to know which door the cat used to enter and exit the White House, a not-so-subtle reference to the gossip about JFK’s girlfriends who made clandestine visits via the “back stairs.” Beale’s favorite presidents were LBJ, Ford and Reagan, whom she said understood the importance of parties and social functions in the lives of power brokers and politicians. She criticized the Carters for not having any idea of how important these social events were to Washington politics and was aghast over the fact that they seated husbands and wives next to each other at state dinners. She wrote about the women in society who became her friends, including Claire Booth Luce, Marjorie Merriweather Post and Alice Longworth Roosevelt. Her famous male friends ranged from Salvador Dali to Ronald Reagan. She described the latter as “the most likeable president of the nine I have known.” Betty Beale painted a picture of a time when people appreciated and respected the importance of social camaraderie as a way to communicate and work together successfully and as a way to have fun. Her era spanned four decades and a world of change, but the one thing that she and the parade of politicians and socialites she met had in common was their apparent ability to “live in the moment,” a phrase that may best describe how to have a good time at a party. Donna Evers, devers@eversco.com, is the president and broker of Evers & Co. Real Estate, the largest woman-owned and -run real estate company in the Washington metropolitan area. She is the proprietor of Twin Oaks Tavern Winery in Bluemont, Va., and a devoted student of Washington-area history. [gallery ids="100959,130739,130735" nav="thumbs"]

Francis I: the Irony of a Jesuit Pope

"I announce to you a great joy," said the church official. "Habeus papam . . ." We have a pope: the 266th, once known as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he is now Pope Francis I. Francis. A simple name. A holy and humble man, who enthusiastically ministers to the poor. A scientist. A surprising choice, the new pope represents several firsts: the first Francis, first pope from the Americas, first from South America, which has the most Roman Catholics of any continent, first non-European in more than 1,000 years and first Jesuit. That last first on the list -- "Jesuit," the nickname for a member of the Society of Jesus, a religious order founded in 1540 by St. Ignatius Loyola, is fraught with irony. Yes, the Jesuits usually are not in official church leadership roles, and, yes, the Jesuits vow onto death absolute obedience to the pope. They are renowned for their schools and missions. They were set up as a group to be soldiers of Christ and to lead the Catholic Counter-Reformation, fighting the spread of Protestantism. They became very good at what they did -- so much so that the pope dissolved the order in 1773, after other nations had already begun to kick them out, accusing them of excessive influence. The suppression of the Jesuits is a complex tale of national jealousies, betrayal and greed along with confiscated property, banished missionaries and lost souls. The order was restored in 1814 by Pope Pius VII. Indeed, the oldest Catholic institution of higher learning in the United States, Georgetown University, could not formally begin as a Jesuit college in the future Washington, D.C. -- but ex-Jesuits, known as "the Christian Brothers of Maryland," signed the deed. Georgetown University was founded in 1789 by Archbishop John Carroll, ordained in Europe as a Jesuit priest. The Society of Jesus was protected in Russia by Catherine the Great, who did not enforce the papal ban. Today, the Georgetown campus is justly proud of the new pope, a Jesuit. "Yesterday was a day of great joy for Georgetown as the nation's oldest Catholic and Jesuit university," said Rev. Kevin O'Brien, S.J., Vice President for Mission and Ministry of Georgetown University. "In the election of Francis, the cardinals for the first time have given the Church a pope steeped in the Jesuit tradition and with Latin American roots. With this background, Francis will bring a different style or way of proceeding to the office. His name, 'Francis,' reminds the Church of a simplicity of life focused on the gospel and on service to the poor, as St. Francis of Assisi was devoted to. St. Francis was also committed to renewing spiritually the church of his time. Hopefully, our Francis will do the same for our Church today." "This is an historic moment for our Church and for our community that the first Jesuit and the first cardinal from the Americas has become pope, the leader of our global community of believers," said John DeGioia, President of Georgetown University. "Our work at Georgetown is informed by the spirituality of St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order. This very same tradition played an essential role in the formation of our new pope, and we have seen it expressed in his preference and care for the poor, his vow of poverty, and his ministry as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. We are grateful to share this spiritual affinity with our new pontiff.” Amid the many commenters on television last night, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile -- and teacher at the university -- said on CNN that Georgetown students were excited about the selection. Maybe during a future visit, this pope will stop by Georgetown, seen by some Catholics as too liberal. The other Jesuit connection in Georgetown is Holy Trinity Church, a block from the university; it is a Jesuit parish. Nearby are the Jesuit prep schools: Gonzaga College High School on North Capitol Street and Georgetown Prep in North Bethesda. While the new pope appears to have chosen "Francis" for Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and a special saint for Italy, Georgetown history professor, Rev. David Collins, S.J., would like to add two other Francises: St. Francis Xavier, the Jesuit missionary who traveled from India to Japan, and St. Francis de Sales, devout bishop of Genoa. This pope -- Jesuitical in his thinking, balancing the practical with the spiritual -- has entered a wider world, something Jesuits do well. His cardinals toasted him during the first night of his papacy, according to the Vatican. Pope Francis I wryly responded: “May God forgive you for what you have done.” [gallery ids="101204,143912" nav="thumbs"]

HISTORIC D.C.: A Tribute to the Duke

Edward Kennedy Ellington, one of the most accomplished American musicians, composers and performers of all time, was born and raised in Washington, D.C. He got his nickname “Duke” in high school, because of his reputation for being a sharp dresser with elegant manners. Born in 1899 on 22nd Street, Duke grew up in Shaw at 1212 T St., NW, of parents who both played the piano. He dropped out of high school to take piano lessons and soon was playing in the jazz clubs, which were then prevalent in Shaw. In fact, Washington in the early 1900s was a top city for African-American culture and music, and the U Street corridor was its mecca. When Duke was 21, he and his band the Washingtonians headed for New York, where musical and African American culture was booming in Harlem. As his popularity grew, he played at the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theater. But he also came back and played often in theaters on the “Great Black Way” on U Street, where stars like Pearl Bailey, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr., Sarah Vaughn, Lena Horne and Harry Belafonte frequently performed. During his 50-year career, Duke wrote more than 1,000 compositions and entertained everyone from presidents to European royalty. He often broke the color barrier by playing for both white and black audiences, which was otherwise unheard of at that time. He is largely responsible for helping raise the prestige of jazz to a high art form, even though he had to start modestly; his first gig was at the famous Howard Theater on T Street, where he was paid a grand total of 75 cents. When he died in 1974, his funeral in New York City was attended by more than 15,000 people. Ella Fitzgerald sang “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” and Judy Collins later wrote a song about the funeral. The awards and accolades kept coming after his death, culminating in a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 1999. He had a school, a building, a park and a major bridge named after him in his hometown of Washington, D.C., as well as a street and a circle in New York City. He was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Nixon at an extravagant musical event in his honor at the White House in 1969. He received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1966 and the Legion of Honor from the French government in 1973. Duke Ellington kept his band and his love of music in the forefront of American culture through two World Wars and a recession. He was a brilliant pianist, incredibly prolific composer, recording artist, bandleader and entrepreneur. His whole life was completely dedicated to the art of jazz. Once in an interview, he was asked when he was born, and he replied that he “was born in July of 1956 at the Newport Jazz Festival.” When he died in 1974, his last words were, “Music is how I live.” The next time you hear “Mood Indigo” or “Take the A Train,” remember the Duke and his overflowing talent that gave the world an unprecedented appreciation for jazz, or as he liked to call it, “American music.” ? Donna Evers, devers@eversco.com is the owner and broker of Evers & Co. Real Estate, the largest woman owned and run real estate firm in the Washington metro area; she is also the proprietor of Twin oaks Tavern Winery in Bluemont, Virginia, and a devoted student of Washington area history.

Adams & Jefferson, July 4, 1826

It seems nearly impossible to suppose that two of the Founding Fathers and ex-presidents could have both died on the Fourth of July, exactly 50 years after their signing of the Declaration of Independence. But, that’s just what happened. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who made history on so many levels, forged a great friendship when they worked together during the drafting of the Declaration. Jefferson, Adams and his wife Abigail, were neighbors and confidants in Paris right after our revolution and at the beginning of the French Revolution. But, the two men were very different personalities, and their political views on how to run the country and deal with foreign affairs grew further and further apart during the 25 years between 1775 and 1800, when their rivalry and resulting animosities grew with Jefferson pursuing a more liberal stance with his Republican Party and Adams taking over leadership of the more conservative Federalist Party. The rift became complete when Jefferson defeated Adams in a very bitter and tight presidential race in 1800, which many historians believe to have been the worst time in American history for extreme partisan politics in Washington. Adams retired to his family home in Massachusetts, and the two men, who had exchanged hundreds of letters and hours of conversation over the years, literally stopped talking to each other for the next ten years. A mutual friend, Dr. Benjamin Rush, also a fellow signer of the Declaration, was pained by the animosity between the two men which had lasted so long. He said he had a dream about Jefferson and Adams and woke feeling that he had to intervene. So, he wrote to each and brokered peace between them, asking them to forget and forgive and remember their former friendship which had carried them through such turbulent times. That broke the ice and the two men resumed a remarkable epistolary friendship. Although they disagreed on many topics, their admiration for each other allowed them to discuss their differences without losing the friendship. Shortly after the rapprochement, Benjamin Rush died and both Jefferson and Adams expressed their gratitude to Rush for bringing them together again. They continued to correspond for the next 15 years. When the government decided to have a huge 50-year celebration of the signing of the Declaration in Washington, the two men were invited to speak at the anniversary. But, it was not to happen, because by the time summer came, they were both too weak and sick to make the trip. As the anniversary approached in Washington, D.C., Adams in Quincy, Mass., and Jefferson at Monticello in Virginia were both critically ill. On the morning of July 3, Jefferson woke up long enough to ask what day it was. When he found out it was only the 3rd, he managed to hang on until 1 p.m. of July 4th, when he breathed his last. Adams, in his sickbed in Quincy, Mass., would not have known that Jefferson had just died, and his last words were “Jefferson survives,” even though Jefferson had already died five hours earlier. But it must have been a great consolation for Adams to die knowing that, 50 years after he helped to change the world, his own son, John Quincy Adams, was President of the United States. Donna Evers, devers@eversco.com is the owner and broker of Evers & Co. Real Estate, the largest woman owned and run real estate firm in the Washington metro area; she is also the proprietor of Twin oaks Tavern Winery in Bluemont, Virginia, and a devoted student of Washington area history.

50 Years On: Jack & Jackie In Our Lives

Those of us who were alive on that day all remember where we were and how we felt when we got the news that day. Oh, G od. We may not remember exactly all of the details, who was with us, and exactly what we were doing or what we said, or even remember entirely the person who we were. It was, after all, 50 years ago on November 22, 1963, in Dallas that President John F. Kennedy was shot by a lone assassin named Lee Harvey Oswald, while riding in a motorcade with his wife and John Connolly, the Governor of Texas, and his wife. That was half a century ago, the better part of a life ago, if you remember then and when. Time stopped for Americans that day, and, headed one way into history, diverged on another road. We lost a 46-year-old president who was admired probably beyond reason by millions, because, like another leader whose soaring rhetoric on the National Mall that summer roared all the way to the White House, he had the ability to inspire us to dream. He too, died at an assassin’s hand. Beyond all that and anything else, the great loss that this country—beyond the whole Kennedy saga, the historical facts of the matter—the greatest loss we suffered as Americans was the source of inspiration, that voice and source of energy, action and vision. What we were left with was an ongoing drama, a legend, the remnants of a family that would continue to engage us and fascinate us even now and especially now. A 50th anniversary of an event, even one as shocking and tragic as the assassination of a president, amounts to a resurrection, the old story told anew, and remembered by those who can remember it and we tell these stories, these days, through personal memory, through photographs, through musty old newspaper headlines, books and words, videos and flickering images from that day and the mournful afterward days, as well as through mediums and methods that did not exist when John F. Kennedy lived and died. We prepare to remember that day—which resonates in especially poignant fashion in Georgetown—here, as we always do with speeches, talks, symposiums, the marketing of the cottage industry that is Kennedy books, Kennedy stories, Kennedy histories, Kennedy memorabilia. Fifty years is a long time, but our fascination with the life and death of JFK at this time is not a matter grief or of not getting over it. I suspect the need to remember is spurred not by grief and sorrow, but by history—our own, and that of the day it happened. We mourn the passing of the president, to be sure, and the flickering of that flame in Arlington Cemetery, which we cannot today visit because of this miasma of the government shutdown, but we also with resignation recognized all that has happened since, the change train that’s rushed through and altered us all as persons and citizens. John F. Kennedy is, of course, remembered vividly here in Georgeotown by surviving Georgetowners,, he lived and breathed, rented and courted and fathered and familied among us, sometimes looking impossibly young and dashing, like a vision of a long (and then lost) future. He lived in an apartment at 1528 31st Street as a bachelor congressman from Massachusetts, then lived for a time with his sister Eunice a few blocks down the street. After winning his senate seat in 1952, he moved into an apartment at 3260 N St., NW, for two years. He was living at 3271 P St., NW, when he proposed to Jackie, whom he had met at a friend’s house in Georgetown. The couple’s first house was at 3321 Dent Place, NW, where they lived in 1954. They moved to 2808 P St., NW, in 1957 and then to 3307 N St., NW, the couple’s last residence in Georgetown. He was still a Georgetowner when he ran for president, and his son John Jr. was born at Georgetown University Hospital. Looked at through the prism of his residential moves in Georgetown, it’s fair to say that Kennedy lived his manly youth here, in the kind of perpetual tree-shaded sunlight so characteristic of Georgetown. He lived among his peers, his family, within sight and sound of the spires—buildings and academic intellect—of Georgetown University, of Holy Trinty Church, as part of a high-powered community full of men and women of achievement, wealth and style. The Georgetowner was here too, chronicling much of the comings and goings under founder and owner Ami Stewart. Georgetown was different then, we are generations removed from the Kennedys in Georgetown, and most of those high-profile leaders are long gone, along with many members—the brothers, daughters and sons, grandparent, Robert and Ted, John John and Rose and Joe—of the Kennedy family. We wrote often about the Kennedys, and in the aftermath of the assassination we tried to capture the changing, and elusive legend, watched it change over time. It became something of a tradition and part of our November journalistic life. But now, because half a century is 50 years and a large part of a life, it is time to reflect in more detail. We have a wealth of tools to look back with—books and histories too numerous to count from those rushed and labored over in the immediate aftermath— Arthur Schlesinger’s “A Thousand Days,” and William Manchester’s still readable account of “The Death of a President” spring immediately to mind—and books of photographs and exhibitions, and films—“Parkland” a new film that recounts the assassination day is out now, but there’s always the rabbit hole of Oliver Stone’s “JFK,” a conspiracy movie to end all conspiracy movies—and memories and life and times. We had our friend Pierre Salinger, JFK’s much put-upon press secretary writing for us in the late 1990s until 2002. For now, though here in Washington, D.C., where JFK’s funeral and memorialization and institutionalization of Camelot are vivid memories, we can remember at the Newseum, which will be holding a JFK Remembrance Day Nov. 22. The Newseum is showing numerous films, and holding numerous activities, including two ongoing exhibitions. There’s “Three Shots Were Fired,” a rich and detailed exhibition full of artifacts—including among many the Bell & Howell 8 mm movie camera, used by Abraham Zapruder which captured the killing. “Creating Camelot” is an exhibition of “The Kennedy Photography of Jacques Lowe,” with photographs of images of the Kennedys and their children, Caroline and John. Lowe was the family’s personal photographer. You can find a more wide-ranging view in “Capturing Camelot,” a book of photographs by the late Look Magazine photographer Stanley Tretick, with moving text by Georgetowner and best-selling author Kitty Kelley and photographs by Tetrick of the Kennedys that appear as startling and fresh as the sounds you might have heard at a Kennedy family breakfast or touch football game. No doubt there will be an onslaught of memories, of pictures and musings about that day. I remember myself then, sort of, a young private first class in the United States Army in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, sitting in a group of chairs around a black-and-white television set that day, and later on a Sunday, watching Lee Harvey Oswald murdered by Jack Ruby. We had never seen or felt or experienced anything remotely like that and we wept, and then were stunned into silence and later, the salute, the widow, the old Frenchman, President Charles de Gaulle, the thunder and drums and the coffin and the horse. He still inspires us today, I think, and seems in pictures, still very alive. But it was 50 years ago. The history—the kind that tortures us madly today in our daily lives amid a government shutdown and the kind that happened then—lives on and perhaps it will echo stronger in times notable for the absence of reasonable, pragmatic and inspiring men. [gallery ids="101486,152003" nav="thumbs"]

The National Cathedral: Echoes of the Middle Ages

When Pierre l’Enfant drew his plan for the City of Washington, it included a “national church,” which he thought should be built on the site where the National Portrait Gallery now sits. It wasn’t until 100 years later that Congress approved a plan for the Episcopal Cathedral Foundation to proceed with fundraising and then construction, which began in 1907, to the national church that was formally named the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. They chose a high point in the city, Mount St. Albans, and even though the cathedral is the third highest structure in Washington at 301 feet, its position on a hill 400 feet above sea level makes it tower over all other structures in the city. The National Cathedral is reputed to be the sixth largest cathedral in the world. In the U.S., it is second only in size to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. Like the great cathedrals of Europe, it took a long time to build: in this case, some 83 years. And, like the cathedrals of the Middle Ages, flaws were purposely built into the construction, some say as an admission on the part of the builders that only God could be perfect, a kind of mea culpa for the vanity of such a creation. Yet these intentional flaws actually served to make up for visual distortions, a device that even the builders of the great pyramids of Egypt employed. For example, the main aisle of the cathedral where it meets the cross section is tilted slightly off its axis to make up for the visual distortion that would occur if when one were to stand in the middle of the aisle and look down the long expanse. In further reference to the great medieval builders, the architects of the National Cathedral included crypt chapels in the Norman, Romanesque and Transitional style, a mixture that also occurred in the great Gothic cathedrals of Europe where construction took so long that many changing style elements were blended in the same cathedral. When we think of these mixed styles, is natural to think of the two very different towers on the great cathedral of Chartres in France. However, that particular cathedral that we see on the site was built quickly, as medieval cathedrals go. The reason for the two different towers is because one of the original matching 12th century towers was struck by lightening some four centuries after it was built. When it was replaced, the ornate Flamboyant gothic style was all the rage, and so the new tower was very different from the other simpler Romanesque tower. Like Chartres, the great permanence that the National Cathedral represents was tried in a similar way, when the 5.8-magnitude earthquake of 2011 shook the building and caused damage that will take many years and some 26 million dollars to repair. Medieval cathedrals were compendiums of the civilization they represented, and much like Chartres, the National Cathedral is full of symbolism, both religious and artistic. Its decorations, architecture and its 200 stained glass windows can be “read” like a book. Students of Western culture will do well to add the National Cathedral to their list of art museums, as one more great place in our city to visit and learn. Donna Evers, devers@eversco.com, is the owner and broker of Evers & Co. Real Estate, the largest woman-owned and run residential real estate company in the Washington Metro area, the proprietor of historic Twin Oaks Tavern Winery in Bluemont, Va., and a devoted student of Washington history.

Thanksgiving from the Very Beginning

The so-called first Thanksgiving occurred in Plymouth Colony, Mass., in 1621. It was a feast held one year after the Pilgrims landed to celebrate their first successful harvest, a three-day joint celebration by the colonists and the resident Native American tribe. They had plenty of reasons to celebrate, including being lucky enough to have survived the perilous Atlantic crossing a year before. Only about half of the people on board the Mayflower actually lived through the ordeal. The accommodations might have been a large part of the problem. There were 102 passengers and 26 crewmen on board a ship that measured about 25 by 100 feet and was not meant to carry passengers but rather freight. They were on board for two months and hit many dangerous storms, finally landing in Plymouth, instead of their planned destination at the mouth of the Hudson River. Some of the leaders who emerged from the group—including John Alden and Miles Standish—were crewmen who had been hired by the Pilgrim Separatists to help out on the trip and build houses when they went ashore. And some of the crew had actually crossed the ocean on previous trips exploring the New World. One of them, Stephen Hopkins, who had been shipwrecked on Bermuda during a prior trip, was a neighbor of William Shakespeare. His Bermuda shipwreck is said to have been the basis for “The Tempest.” These hardy survivors started the tradition we celebrate today, but it took nearly 30 years of campaigning by Sarah Josepha Hale, the first woman to edit an American magazine (and incidentally the author of the nursery rhyme “Mary had a Little Lamb”), to make it official. Finally, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln, who had other things to think about, declared the last Thursday in November to be the national holiday of Thanksgiving. This last-Thursday designation lasted until Franklin D. Roosevelt moved it up to the third Thursday in November. The idea was to extend the Christmas shopping period and give businesses and the economy a boost—something merchants can sympathize with this year, given the late Thanksgiving and a mere 26 shopping days until Christmas. But people didn’t like the earlier date and nicknamed it “Franksgiving.” In 1941, therefore, Roosevelt signed a bill declaring that the holiday would fall on the fourth Thursday in November. Though we think of the fearless Pilgrims as the creators of the first Thanksgiving, theirs was but a one-time celebration. The more important fact is that 53 persons survived such a tough journey across the ocean to start the great adventure in the New World, a circumstance for which we will always be thankful. Donna Evers, devers@eversco.com, is the owner and broker of Evers & Co. Real Estate, the largest woman-owned and -run real estate company in the Washington Metro area.