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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.

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.

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"]

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.

The Origins of DC’s Landscape

Washington had a lot of lucky breaks in its early history. First of all, the blueprint for the city was drawn up by a genius with dreams of glory for the capital city of a brand new country. Trained at L’Ecole des Beaux Arts, Pierre L’Enfant no doubt was thinking about Paris when he drew the plans for the District, with the two-mile-long Mall and the wide avenues with parks and circles for monuments and statues. It took many years with lots of false starts, but the city finally began to grow into the grand pattern he laid out. In the boom period that ran from the 1880s through the 1920s, hundreds of elaborate apartment buildings were built in the District. There was an unusually talented group of architects available then, many of whom also trained at the L’Ecole in Paris. And they had the same big plans as L’Enfant. One architect in particular was able to build his loftiest idea, thanks to the newly invented method of steel frame construction. The strange but brilliant Cairo apartment building at 1615 Q Street NW, was created by an ambitious young architect named Thomas Franklin Schneider. It is a jumble of Romanesque and Egyptian Revival with Moorish overtones and, if that isn’t enough, a sprinkling of medieval gargoyles. Built in 1894, it reached the monumental height of 165 feet. Besides its height, there was nothing shy and retiring about the Cairo. It had a ballroom, grand dining room, billiards room, bakery, drugstore and artesian well in the basement for its own water supply. The roof deck was popular because of the incredible views it afforded, but it eventually had to be shut down because guests would drop stones from the deck, causing horse and buggy accidents on the street far below. The height of the Cairo upset a lot of people and it worried the city fathers, because firemans’ ladders wouldn’t be able to reach high enough to save people in the event of a fire. Then there were aesthetic considerations. Tall buildings would ruin the concept L’Enfant had for the city. It was no less than Thomas Jefferson who first suggested that the capital city should have a low-lying landscape similar to that of Paris, France, which is exactly what L’Enfant created. None of the fine buildings, parks and monuments would be seen if Washington became a city of skyscrapers. Concern for the beauty of the city and the safety hazards the tall buildings created was great enough for the D.C. Board of Supervisors to set limits on new construction, so they adopted the Height of Buildings Act in 1899, which exists in much the same form today with height limits of about 130 feet, or 10 stories. As we well know, boom economies don’t last forever. The economic groundswell of the Gilded Era in Washington ended with the Great Depression, and many famous builders bit the dust with the bad times. Harry Wardman, who was responsible for building more dwelling units here than any other single builder, lost $30,000,000 in the depression. Edgar Kennedy and Monroe Warren declared bankruptcy in 1932 and lost the Art Deco masterpiece named after them, even before it was completed. But, Washington’s legacy was all the fine buildings they left for us, most of which were converted to condominiums in the 1970’s. So we were lucky. The gifted people responsible for literally hundreds of outstanding buildings that expressed every major trend, from Georgian to Beaux Arts and Art Deco, were first and second generation Americans, most of who designed their first projects before they were 30 years old. Thomas Jefferson and Pierre L’Enfant both got their wishes, and we got a cityscape of elegant buildings and monuments in an atmosphere that is unique among American cities. 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 and Vineyard in Bluemont, Virginia, and a devoted fan of Washington history.

The Willard: Birthplace of ‘Battle Hymn’

While historians generally believe the term “lobbyist” came from England circa 1800, it is part of our local lore that the term originated in the lobby of the Willard Hotel in downtown Washington. It seems that President U.S. Grant liked to slip away from the White House to enjoy a cigar and brandy at the nearby hotel. People in high places who wanted favors used to lie in wait for him, and hence the Washington version of the term “lobbyist.” Since the hotel’s 1986 period restoration, the lobby is so redolent of the 1860s, that one can easily imagine Grant stretched out in a velvet lounge chair behind one of the potted palms. What you may not know is that another piece of 1860’s history was born at the Willard, before Grant was president and even before he assumed command of the Union Army. It had to do with the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861, whose 150 year anniversary was celebrated this summer with speeches and re-enactments at the battleground park in Manassas, Va. Early in the conflict, confident that they could defeat the South, the Union Army marched toward Richmond with the hope of bringing the war to a quick close. The North was so sure of itself that congressmen and dignitaries from Washington packed picnic lunches and rode their carriages behind the army so they could watch their soldiers win the day. Instead, the northerners met with fierce resistance from the strong southern army they encountered in Manassas. This was the battle where Confederate General Thomas Jonathan Jackson earned the nickname “Stonewall” for not giving up his position, and where the first civilian casualty of the war occurred, when the 85-year-old woman who owned the house on Henry Hill was killed in the cannon crossfire. The battle lasted five hours with many casualties on both sides, and ended with the Union army turning back and fleeing toward Washington. The civilians quickly turned their carriages around to head back east, got mixed in with the retreating soldiers, and created a massive traffic jam with panicked soldiers and civilians running in all directions. As a result of this battle, morale in the Union Army was at low ebb, and the generals had a hard time recruiting soldiers. A New England abolitionist named Julia Ward Howe was afraid that the North might lose and slavery would not be defeated. So, she came to Washington to see if she could help. While Howe was in town staying at the Willard Hotel, she heard soldiers singing “John Brown’s Body” outside her open window. She liked the melody but thought it was a shame there weren’t better words to go with the song. When she awoke up in the middle of the night, she was suddenly wide awake and began writing verses to the melody, which she later sold to The Atlantic Monthly magazine for $5. “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” became one of our most beloved patriotic songs, and on the front of the Willard Hotel, a plaque commemorates Julia Ward Howe for writing the verses that led Union troops into battle through the next four terrible years, until they were, as the song promised, victorious. Here is one more story about the Willard: as we celebrate the new memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it’s interesting to know that he stayed at the Willard in 1963, almost 100 years after Howe’s visit, in the days before he gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. When you think of him sitting in his room going over the words of his history-changing speech, you have to believe that inspiration must live in those walls. 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; the proprietor of Twin Oaks Tavern Winery in Bluemont, Virginia; and a devoted fan of Washington history. [gallery ids="102541,120015" nav="thumbs"]

Under the French Influence of Jules de Sibour

In the 6th arrondissement in Paris, where the rue des Beaux-Arts meets rue Bonaparte, stands a venerable building which was more influential on architecture in Washington than any other institution, present or past. The Ecole des Beaux-Arts was the training ground for so many great American architects in the Gilded Era of Washington, including the charming maestro of Beaux Arts architecture, Jules Henri de Sibour. Jules de Sibour had an American mother and a French father, who was a direct descendent of France’s King Louis XVI. He grew up between France and the U.S., going to prep school in New Hampshire, then on to Yale, and following in his father’s footsteps, married an American, a Washingtonian named Margaret Claggett. De Sibour joined his older brother at the renowned architectural firm of Ernest Flagg and Bruce Price, who designed one of the best-known Beaux Arts buildings in the world, the Hotel Frontenac in Quebec. Price convinced de Sibour to go to Paris and get the proper training at the Ecole. He studied there for 18 months. When he came back to New York, he quickly gained a name for himself, and since he began to get more commissions in Washington, moved here in 1910, to make his mark on the city just at a time when merchant princes from all over the country wanted a grand mansion in the nation’s capital. His interpretations of the Beaux Arts design have never been equaled, especially in the way he fit the buildings to the District’s angular corners, an inheritance from one of de Sibour’s French predecessors, Pierre L’Enfant, also a student of the Ecole. A fine example of de Sibour’s genius is his design of the McCormick Apartment Building, which seems to flow around the corner at 1785 Massachusetts Avenue NW. The perfectly balanced and designed exterior is the best of Classic design with the decoration of Beaux Arts flawlessly incorporated. Now it is home to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a group uniquely suited to appreciate its workplace. De Sibour’s accomplishments go on and on, including the Thomas Gaff House (Columbian residence), the Wilkins house (Peruvian Embassy), the Jefferson Hotel, the French Embassy, the original Folger Theater Building and the Clarence Moore house at 1746 Massachusetts Avenue, NW (now the Uzbekistan Embassy). De Sibour became friends with Clarence Moore, who was also Master of Hounds at the Chevy Chase Club, and who commissioned de Sibour to design the main building for the club. Moore famously met an early demise, when he went to England to buy hunting hounds and decided to come back on the R.M.S. Titanic. De Sibour went on to be a regular at the club. The descendent of Louis XVI became its star baseball player and -- between designing buildings -- spent many happy summer days enjoying the ultimate American pastime. 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, Virginia; and a devoted student of Washington history. [gallery ids="100457,115459" nav="thumbs"]

The Iconic Obelisk

The Washington Monument is the single most recognized icon in our cityscape, yet its creation had a turbulent beginning, middle and end. And it’s not over, as the federal government has just committed over $7 million to repair the cracks caused by the 2011 earthquake. To start at the beginning, in 1783, Congress decreed that an equestrian statue should be built to honor the father of our country. So in 1791, Pierre L’Enfant chose the perfect triangulated site in relation to the rest of the National Mall to honor George Washington’s initial career as a surveyor. Fundraising discussions ensued in 1799, and in 1836 a contest was held to choose a design for the monument. Architect Robert Mills won with a design of a simple obelisk surrounded by a fancy rotunda, topped off by Washington at the helm of a chariot led by a team of charging horses. The fundraising goal of $1 million was slow getting off the ground, with only $30,000 collected by 1836, but construction started anyway in 1848. It stopped six years later when they ran out of money. The whole city made fun of the 153-foot stump that dominated the Mall until 1876, when construction resumed, but with a different color of stone (just in case Washingtonians needed a reminder of what happens when Congress starts a project). The obelisk was completed in 1884, but not without controversy. For one thing, it was built on a completely different spot than L’Enfant had chosen. It turned out that the Mall was so swampy, the cornerstone Jefferson originally laid sunk and disappeared into the mire. So, a more solid site had to be found. Then there was the incident involving Pope Pius IX, who donated a stone to the monument that was subsequently stolen by the infamous Know-Nothing Party in a wave of anti-Catholicism. At the same time, two new variations of design were proposed. One involved creating an Italian bell tower at the top of the obelisk and the other idea was to make it into a copy of “one of the better Hindu pagodas”, to quote a local newspaper article. The plans for pagodas, bell towers and rearing horses were scrapped and the simple monument stands as one of the best in the city. At 555 feet and 5 1/8 inches high – give or take a fraction after the earthquake – it remains one of the tallest masonry structure in the world, perhaps an inadvertent tribute to George Washington, who was a devoted Freemason. 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, Virginia; and a devoted student of Washington area history. [gallery ids="100517,119152" nav="thumbs"]

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.