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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Trip Through The Washington National Cathedral-- Washington D.C.

In early 1893, planning began for what would become the Washington National Cathedral, which is the sixth largest cathedral in the world.  Construction began almost a quarter century later, on September 29, 1907. President Theodore Roosevelt presided over a ceremony during which a stone from a field near Bethlehem was set into a larger piece of American granite.

Construction would continue for 83 years until the completion of the west towers in 1990.

112 Gargoyles double as water downspouts.

Fleur De Lis' are found everywhere.
This chap greets you and invites you to enter the Cathedral.  Who could resist?
Flags in DC remain at half staff for Newtown.

The Cathedral is home to 215 stained glass windows, both secular and non-secular.  The examples below demonstrate the differences depending on the lighting. 

The Cathedral has played a significant role in American History and has played host to several notable events and dignitaries including:
  • In 1968, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached his last Sunday sermon from the Canterbury Pulpit;
  • Many Presidential State Funerals including President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s State Funeral in 1969;
  • Queen Elizabeth II, visited for a dedication ceremony in 1976;
  • The Cathedral was the site of the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance service on September 14, 2001, and
  • Most recently, memorial services for presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford were held there in 2004 and 2007.
"The Pentagon Cross" was created with pieces from the face of the Pentagon after the 9/11 attacks.
The official name of the National Cathedral is Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

Memorial to the U.S. Founding Fathers. 

View looking up from the Crypt toward the main level.  

At least 220 people are interred in the Cathedral, including President Woodrow Wilson and Helen Keller.

The crypt has mysterious passages leading to secret vaults and catacombs. 

The Cathedral remains heavily damaged by an August 2011 earthquake.  This main tower is 30 stories tall. 
I took this shot from almost the same spot in April 2011, before the earthquake. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Civil War Cannonballs Stuck in Walls, 150 years Later-- Fredericksburg, Virginia

One of the really cool things about Fredericksburg, Virginia is the visible reminders of the Civil War all over the area.  Below are two examples of these reminders that are right in plain sight, yet if you don't know what your looking for, you will completely miss them.

The Presbyterian Church on Princess Anne in downtown Fredericksburg, was founded in 1808. This church is the site of where General Robert E. Lee and General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson planned the Battle of Fredericksburg. After the battle, the church was used as a hospital. During the aftermath of the battle, Clara Barton, later founder of the Red Cross, volunteered at the field hospital in the sanctuary to care for wounded soldiers.

  A cursory look shows a typical church. 
A closer look shows two Union cannon balls which remain embedded in one of the front pillars as a reminder of the 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg. 

I was curious as to if the cannon balls had really been present in their current places since the war.  I found these two old photos dating back to at least the 1920's in which two small black dots can be seen in the same places. 


Kenmore Plantation, built in 1775, was the home of Fielding Lewis and his wife Betty Washington Lewis (George Washington's sister). Later damaged during the Battle of Fredericksburg, the building is still marked by a Union cannonball which remains embedded in an outer wall.

Supporting the authenticity of this cannonball, the 1920 photo below does show a black dot in the exact same place as the current cannonball. 

Lorton Maximum Security Penitentiary "The Wall"-- Silent and Ominous in Black & White

In 1910, the U.S. Government began purchasing 3500 acres of prime real estate on the Occoquan River in Virginia, to house what would become workhouse, reformatory and penitentiary buildings of the DC Prison at Lorton. The site was in use over a 92-year until all inmates were eventually moved into the Federal Bureau of Prisons. 

Nothing like a Keep Out sign to make me want to go in!!!!

Between 1931 and 1938, inmates constructed a 10-acre walled penitentiary with cellblocks using bricks made in kilns along the Occoquan. This was a maximum security facility and housed the most hardened criminals.
One of the few remaining indicators of the railroad line used to transport inmates to and from the prison.  A guard tower is just visible in the background.

The prison housed prisoners from Washington DC- often poor inner-city blacks from DC's crime ridden neighborhoods.

The workhouse and reformatory were supposed to “rehabilitate and reform prisoners through fresh air, good food and honest work.” This is a bench they used while enjoying their "fresh air."

All around are reminders that the facility is slowly deteriorating. 

During the Cold War, the property hosted a Nike Missile Site as part of the US Air Defense system.

Rear gate leading into the facility.

St. Paul's Chapel, built by inmates, opened in 1961 at the reformatory. 

The Armory.

Dormitory housing.

The 'Lorton Technical Corrections Act' which was passed by Congress in October 1998, signaled the end of operations of the Lorton site as a prison. The act required the county to develop a plan to use the land for open space, parkland and recreational space prior to the county acquiring the property. The MOU below details this:

This tower watched over the rec yard of the reformatory.
Tower overlooking "The Wall" as the Maximum Facility was known. The reformatory is to the left as the two facilities are adjacent to each other.  The workhouse is a ways away. 

Looking through The Wall on to the rec yard of the penitentiary.
Penitentiary grounds. 
Besides vehicle gates and sallyport type entrances, this was the only break in The Wall that I noted.  Interestingly, maximum security inmates could stand right on the other side of this gate and be inches from complete freedom as there are no other security controls should this gate be defeated. 

For a short shapshot of what life was like inside Lorton Prison, watch this interview of a former worker:

By 1995 the Lorton Complex housed at least 7300 inmates, which was 54% above capacity. The District of Columbia lacked the funds needed to construct housing for the growing population and to maintain adequate staffing level.  The US Government assumed overall financial and administrative control of the prison system via a trusteeship arrangement.

After legislation passed to close the facilities, the DC Department of Corrections began moving inmates to the BOP and private facilities. By late 2001, the last inmates were transferred out and the facilities were shuttered.