Here’s our latest hand-altered DC postcard — both are green, both speak with accents and both sold the American people insurance against fear.
Lucky #13 in our series is yet another silly altered DC postcard — our homage to Miley Cyrus being “more quirky than twerky” during her visit to Verizon Center last spring.
The Smithsonian Folklife Festival is the annual event in which America feigns interest in cultural traditions that are not her own, typically from countries we consider to be our pals. But not this year. Throwing caution to the five winds, organizers decided to fulfill the most paranoid delusions of the Tea Party faithful – that Obama is a Muslim, Kenyan-born, kowtowing Commie – by bucking tradition and featuring the cultural folklore of Kenya and China. (Congratulations, China, on surpassing Iran this year as our No. 1 enemy!)
Launched during the Summer of Love in 1967, the free-of-charge Folklife Festival is the largest cultural event in DC, drawing more than 1 million visitors to sweat together under tents each year.
Held outdoors on the National Mall for two weeks every summer, Folklife over the years has brought more than 23,000 artists, musicians, performers, craftspeople, cooks, workers, storytellers and others to the Mall to demonstrate their creative traditions. To help us remember America’s still No. 1, though, the festival always overlaps the Fourth of July. (NOTE: Our tradition of eating BBQ, drinking beer, wearing the American flag and blowing sh*t up will always trump your quaint costumed dances and soapstone hippo carvings.)
Folklife has featured tradition bearers from more than 90 countries and is “an international exposition of living cultural heritage,” according to its producer, the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. It’s a chance for Americans to see other cultures without having to leave America, like visiting Chinatown or going to the Bronx.
Programs at Folklife are usually divided into a nation, region, state or theme. Some are more exotic than others. Topics have included Workers at the White House, King Island Eskimo Dancers, Streetplay, Portuguese-American Fado Musicians, Iroquois Confederacy, American Trial Lawyers, Meat Cutters and Butchers, Unfolding the AIDS Memorial Quilt, Bhutan: Land of the Thunder Dragon, Gateways to Romania, Organ Builders and Iowa: Community Style.
To bring these programs to life, the Festival has built an array of cultural re-creations, including an Indian village with 40-foot-high bamboo and paper statues, a Japanese rice paddy, a New Mexican adobe plaza and a horse racetrack that stretched from the Washington Monument to the U.S. Capitol Building.
This year, Folklife constructed the enormous Tian Tian Xiang Shang Gateway at the western entrance to the festival, to remind festivalgoers that China has a lighter side, one that it plans to employ when it crushes America with its growing economic power. Rather than showing off its more recent traditions of cultural repression and citizen intimidation, China instead featured such cultural customs as clay sculpture, traditional Inner Mongolian music and kite-making. If you want a taste of real Chinese economic influence, visit DC’s new Walmart at 1st and H Street NW.
The video below features Inner Mongolian ensemble Ih Tsetsn performing at the Moonrise Pavilion on July 5. The band’s name means “broad, inclusive and wise” in the Mongolian language, and their music was just that – showcasing the morin khuur (horse-head fiddle), topshuur (two-stringed plucked instrument), long song and khoomei throat-singing. We dare you not to belch along.
The Kenya programs at Folklife featured natives dressed like Marion Barry during his African-garb phase, wild booty-shaking percussion music and fantastic huts made of recycled bottles, tin, bottle caps, broken tiles and glass.
The video below features Makadem, a Kenyan artist specializing in Benga music, performing with his band at the Ngoma Stage on June 29.
Check out the photos below for more highlights of the Folklife Festival 2014.
Dr. Henry Cogswell often wondered why anyone would choose an alcoholic beverage over a nice cool drink of water. In his mind, the solution was simple: Build water fountains across America.
Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.” – Ogden Nash
While most dentists rail against the harmfulness of sweets and candy, Doc Cogswell warned about the evils of distilled liquor. It makes sense if you consider that most alcohol is the adult version of candy – fermented sugar. But that wasn’t the real issue for Cogswell. A devout Christian, he felt that the ungodly temptations of alcohol were destroying not only the family, but also man’s connection to God.
To Cogswell, the choice of what to drink was simply a matter of easy access: Offer a man in search of a saloon a drink of water instead of whiskey, and he will rightly choose the healthful, thirst-quenching water. Needless to say, Cogswell was not a drinker.
Born in New England, Henry Daniel Cogswell began his first dentistry practice at age 26 in Providence, Rhode Island. When gold was discovered in California, he went, spending five months aboard a clipper ship before landing in San Francisco on October 12, 1849. No 49er himself, he immediately set up shop to become the first practicing dentist in San Francisco. As a teetotaling tooth-puller, he made a mint from the gold miners, often decorating their terrible teeth with gold dental fillings made from their own finds. He also pioneered the use of anesthetic chloroform in dental operations in California. (Chloroform has since been shown to be carcinogenic – it’s like laughing gas without the laughs.)
I do not believe in people being compelled, whether they wish it or not, to go into a saloon to slake their thirst.” – Dr. Henry Cogswell
Cogswell got the last laugh though. He wisely invested his dental earnings in stocks and real estate, becoming one of the first millionaires in San Francisco. He retired from dentistry and put his money to good use, founding the Cogswell Polytechnic Institute, the first school of its kind west of the Mississippi. His real passion, though, was for curing the working classes of their drinking problem. His plan: to provide free drinking fountains in American cities, one for every 100 saloons. What the great unwashed really needed was cool clean water.
A strident supporter of Prohibition, Dr. Cogswell built his first fountains in San Francisco and then set his sights on the sinfully thirsty in the rest of the country.
His fountain at the junction of California and Market Streets [in San Francisco] was crowned by a full-length statue of the fountain-giver philanthropist until the close of the last year. On the first of the new year certain citizens found no better way of relieving the exuberance of their spirits, or of attesting their dislike of the statue as a work lacking art, than to hitch a rope about the neck of the good doctor’s image and pull it to the ground.” – The New York Times, January 14, 1894
Cogswell designed his donated fountains himself, often incorporating a giant statue of himself in a frock coat, holding a cup and dispensing water to the parched masses. The recipients of Cogswell’s magnanimous gifts, however, often quenched themselves by other means and didn’t hesitate to express their true feelings about his monuments to temperance. One “silent gang of hoodlum miscreants” in San Francisco (as the San Francisco Morning Call put it) hitched a rope around the neck of the dentist’s bronze doppelganger and toppled the statue in 1894.
The residents of DC weren’t too keen on Cogswell’s monuments either, but as often happens in our nation’s capital, Congress overruled them and passed a bill in 1882 granting the dentist permission to donate the unwanted fountain. His original design for the DC fountain was, like the San Francisco monuments, topped with a statue of a man eerily similar to himself. But in DC, where statues of great men abound, that design didn’t sit well with the powers that be. Instead, the DC monument – located only blocks from the U.S. Capitol – is topped with a life-sized heron with a single reed growing next to it. (Although the heron appeared on a few cities’ fountains, others were adorned with gargoyles, frogs, pigeons, horses and sea serpents.)
Installed in June 1884, DC’s Cogswell Temperance Fountain is located near the southeast corner of Indiana and 7th NW. Cogswell built about 15 of these anti-alcohol monuments nationwide – in Boston, Buffalo, Rochester, San Francisco – but DC’s is the last remaining intact Cogswell fountain (although restored and reconstructed fountains exist in New York City, Pawtucket, R.I., and Rockville, Conn.). For years, the monument stood squarely on the corner of 7th and Pennsylvania NW, across from the Apex Liquor Store, before it was moved a half-block north. Now it stands across from a Starbucks.
Made of granite and bronze, the fountain was chiseled at a Connecticut foundry, with the words “Faith,” “Hope,” “Charity” and “Temperance” cut under the stone canopy. Cogswell had patented a device to produce cool water and air from ice. Blocks of ice were placed in a sort of well around the central column, and the city pipes flowed through tube coils under the ice. In the fountain’s heyday, this ice water flowed from the mouths of two intertwined scaly dolphins, which look more like Chinese carp. A brass mug dangled by a chain, encouraging those passing by to scoop up a cup of the cool water. Below, a trough caught the runoff for thirsty horses.
It was probably pretty nice to have a cold cup of water during a hot DC summer in 1884, but it’s uncertain if the fountain ever worked. Soon after it was erected, the city stopped replenishing the ice altogether. In the late 1880s, the city considered connecting the fountain’s pipes to a local spring, but the spring was polluted with sewage.
Cogswell’s DC Temperance Fountain was headed for the scrap heap in the 1940s when Sen. Sheridan Downey of California introduced a Senate resolution to tear it down, calling it a “monstrosity of art.” Ulysses S. Grant III, the former president’s grandson and chair of the city’s planning commission, wanted to preserve it, calling the fountain “ugly, but interesting.” Congress ignored Downey’s resolution, and it died in committee.
In 1984, the fountain that nobody wanted in the first place was listed on the DC Downtown Historic District National Register. The pipes are no longer connected to the fountain and the ice well is, ironically, filled with discarded cups, soda bottles and other trash. Despite the abundance of public water fountains in town, the saloons of DC are still doing brisk business.
Happy Summer Solstice 2014, the longest day of the year! Here’s our latest altered DC postcard, encouraging you to tour DC’s Space Needle, follow the National Arboretum trail to the top of Mount Hamilton (240 feet above sea level!), kayak Rock Creek (if the water’s at least two feet deep!) and visit a farm(ers market). Just remember: No matter what you do this summer weekend, Obama will be watching you…
More than 90,000 visitors pass through Union Station daily and, thanks to a group of foresighted railroad officials now long dead, most of those visitors will never have to see a Roman legionnaire’s sculpted man parts.
Back in 1906, American sculptor Louis Saint-Gaudens was under contract with the railroads to create a series of interior and exterior statues for the massive Union Station train depot being developed a few blocks north of the U.S. Capitol. Louis was the brother of famed American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who created the bronze Adams Memorial in Rock Creek Park.
As the Roman legionnaire symbolized the far-flung reaches of the Roman Empire, so these figures symbolize the far-flung ribbons of steel of the vast network of the American railroads reaching every part of the United States.” — George J. Olszewski, “Construction History of Union Station, Washington, D.C.”
For Union Station’s interior, the main sculptural theme was to be Roman legionnaires, to complement architect Daniel Burnham’s Beaux-Arts style modeled after the Roman baths. Upon official railroad approval of a plaster model to be submitted in advance, Saint-Gaudens would then complete 46 carved soldiers. Perched atop the arches over the entrances and exits of the main waiting room, these larger-than-life statues of Roman legionnaires would dutifully watch over the Union Station travelers below.
When Saint-Gaudens submitted his plaster model of the legionnaire, though, there was one small problem: You could see his package. And it wasn’t wrapped. To be clear, the soldier’s wee willy wasn’t even a proper Roman penis — more of a nubbin really. But the officials of the Baltimore & Ohio and Pennsylvania Railroads were having none of it – there would be no sexy soldier legs or any other bareness beneath the belt.
Although the pants-free lifestyle was typical of the Roman legionnaire, railroad officials believed it would cause undue embarrassment for little old ladies visiting Union Station to be exposed to the towering genitalia of rock-hard Roman legionnaires. They felt Union Station was designed to be a noble transportation hub for our nation’s capital, not a giant Roman bathhouse with leering legionnaires gone commando. Louis Saint-Gaudens was urged to alter his model.
Louis tried to convince the prudish railroad officials of the architectural significance of the symbolic figures, but they were adamant that no sculpted man-bits would appear in their new train station. After many meetings (for which we wish we had the transcripts), Saint-Gaudens proposed a solution: Why not place a shield in front of the legs of each legionnaire, held by his right hand (so station travelers would know what that right hand was up to), and thus covering the objectionable hint of phallus the whole way from feet to hips, just to be sure. The railroad officials conceded that this was an adequate manhood cover, and the shields were incorporated into the final design.
The 46 legionnaires were hollow cast in plaster with a sand finish and arranged in pairs over arches. Of these, 36 appeared in the main hall: 10 facing inward from the north gates to the concourse, 10 over exits from the station and eight each on the east and west sides. Six soldiers appear under the main portico above the doors to the main hall, with four more in the west hall. In addition to these figures, Saint-Gaudens created the six enormous stone statues on the façade facing Union Station Plaza and the U.S. Capitol. The more than 50 statues he created for Union Station are considered his life’s masterwork.
Within six years of his contract, Saint-Gaudens had completed carving all of the statuary for both the interior and exterior of Union Station. He was paid $52,044.10 for his work. In 1913, the Roman legionnaire statues were set in place. That same year, Saint-Gaudens died, a victim of pneumonia. Was it Legionnaires’ disease?
BONUS: You may have noticed that all 46 Roman legionnaire statues look fairly similar in face and build. They are. The model for Saint-Gaudens’ legionnaires was Helmus Andrews, a student from Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. All 46 Roman legionnaires have Helmus’ features, though we’re not sure about the nether-nubbens. According to Carol Highsmith and Ted Lamphair’s “Union Station: A Decorative History of Washington’s Grand Terminal,” Helmus visited the station nearly 50 years later and was not impressed. The statues look “pretty crummy,” he said, and he was probably right. By the 1960s, the statues were in dire need of cleaning. One was wearing a Santa hat.
To see more great behind-the-scenes photos of Union Station and the Roman legionnaires, check out the hashtag #UnionStationTour on Instagram and Twitter.
Goodbye, Old Post Office Tower. We’ll miss you and your most spectacular views of Washington, DC. See you in 2016.
Today the Old Post Office at 12th and Pennsylvania Avenue closed to make way for the latest glitzy jewel in a certain real estate developer’s gilded empire.
In 2013, the federal government’s General Services Administration signed a $200 million, 60-year deal to rent the building to infamous real estate mogul Donald Trump. The GSA had been paying about $12 million annually to operate the building while collecting only about $5 million in rent. Now, with the operating expenses handed off to Trump, the GSA will collect about $3.33 million a year in rent.
Trump’s daughter Ivanka said her father plans to renovate the Old Post Office into “the finest luxury hotel in the world.” If it’s anything like the glittery Trump establishments in Atlantic City, be prepared to wear your sunglasses inside. Following a $200 million overhaul, this grand old mailroom will reopen in 2016 as the Trump International Hotel.
Although your average tourists will not be able to afford a stay at the Trump, they will still be able to go up into the tower to the observation deck when the building reopens in 2016. The National Park Service will retain the rights to allow public access to the wonderful views. And, if we’re lucky, the Donald won’t require black people to present their birth certificates when entering his hotel. Welcome to Chocolate City, Donald!
DC’s first skyscraper, the Old Post Office at 12th and Pennsylvania Avenue opened in 1899. It was the first government building on Pennsylvania Avenue and the first building in town to boast having its own electric power plant.
At 315 feet, the Old Post Office Tower is the second-tallest structure in DC, following the Washington Monument. For those missing the tower’s sky-high views, don’t fret. The Washington Monument reopens on May 12, after years of repairs following the 2011 earthquake that rocked DC.
Here’s a last glimpse of the Old Post Office Pavilion, after the shops and food court had closed forever.
The third in our series of silly altered DC postcards…
Each spring, thousands make their annual pilgrimage to DC to gaze in awe at the riotous blooming of the Japanese cherry trees. Poet Pablo Neruda, distinctly not Japanese, once wrote, “I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.” Although we think that’s pretty hot, it has nothing to do with the history of the cherry trees in Washington, DC.
The first shipment of Japanese cherry trees arrived in DC in 1910, a gift from the city of Tokyo intended as a gesture of friendship and goodwill between the people of Japan and the United States. When the trees arrived, however, they were so infested with insects and parasitic worms that there was no easy way to re-gift them to another country. So President Taft agreed to have them incinerated in a heaping big bonfire. Many thought this was no way to accept a gift.
After much diplomacy to smooth over the embarrassing burning of the gift, in 1912 the people of Japan sent a new bug-free shipment of 3,020 cherry trees, and these were planted along the Potomac River. First Lady Helen Herron Taft and the wife of the Japanese ambassador planted the first two cherry trees on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin, and workmen planted the rest around the Tidal Basin and East Potomac Park. (The two original trees are still there, near the John Paul Jones statue at the south end of 17th Street.)
In 1965 Japan gave First Lady Lady Bird Johnson (that’s a mouthful) 3,800 more trees to plant, and today there are 3,750 trees of 16 varieties on national parkland in DC.
This year marks the 102nd anniversary of the original gift of friendship from Japan, although on the 39th anniversary, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, so how’s that for friendship? Four days later, four cherry trees were chopped down in suspected retaliation. The culprits were never caught. To prevent further attacks against the trees, the Cherry Blossom Festival was suspended during World War II (resuming in 1947), and the trees were referred to for the remainder of the war as the “Oriental” flowering cherry trees.
This wasn’t the end of the cherry tree assaults though. In 1999, the trees were attacked once more. But this time they found the vandals – beavers! The beavers were forcefully removed from the Tidal Basin, and fences were erected around some of the more defenseless trees.
If you’d like to take a gander at these celebrity cherry trees, you can find them in three National Park Service locations: around the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park, in East Potomac Park (Hains Point) and on the grounds of the Washington Monument. (For more info on the varieties of cherry trees and their locations, click here.)
Some random facts about the DC cherry blossoms:
- The National Cherry Blossom Festival is scheduled every year based on when the National Park horticulturalists predict peak bloom, but nature doesn’t always cooperate. The weather determines when the trees will bloom, and sometimes it’s not during the festival.
- Most of the trees are of the Yoshino variety, and the average blooming date for the Yoshino cherry trees is April 4.
- Peak bloom is defined as the day on which 70 percent of the blossoms of the Yoshino trees open.
- The earliest blooms were on March 15 in 1990.
- The latest blooms were on April 18 in 1958.
- The Kwanzan cherry tree, the second-most-numerous variety between the Tidal Basin and Hains Point, blooms two weeks after the Yoshino trees. So if you’re a late bloomer, you still have a shot at seeing some blossoms.
To commemorate this perennial event, please submit your very own cherry blossom haiku by email or in the comments below. We’ll read them all and publish the best of them.
Here are two to get you started…
tourists swarm around
cherry trees in luscious bloom
as if sedated
the beaver vandals
hide in the day, but at night
they eat your blossoms
The second installation in our silly series of altered DC postcards that we’d like to see on the souvenir shop racks…