Washington, D.C.

Posted by Ellen

The inner surface of the dome of the U.S. Capitol building is a fresco titled The Apotheosis of Washington, which depicts George Washington in his army uniform, seated amongst the gods of the Roman heavens, surrounded by the entire military-industrial complex.

We'll leave the details of this cartoon to another morning. Today, we want to look just beyond the outer circle of the fresco, where it is barely possible to make out the railing of a narrow balcony running all the way around the dome. If you could get up to this balcony, you could look down 180 feet to the floor of the rotunda, or you could turn around to face the outside of the dome and look out across the city.

Here's the inside view, looking down:

And here's the outside view, looking west along the mall to the Washington Monument:

To get up to this balcony, you first have to become an important person, or at least a congressional page. Then you have to navigate steep, winding metal stairs amid the ironwork that supports the dome:

The whole dome is made of iron–8.9 million pounds of iron–painted to look like the sandstone in the rest of the building. It replaced an earlier, much smaller dome made of wood sheathed in copper. When Congress approved funding for the new dome in 1854 ($100,000), construction began by setting up a crane in the middle of the rotunda, with a steam-powered engine that was fueled by burning the wood from the old dome.

The new dome took nine years to build, and then two more years to paint. Work was finished in 1865. During the project's last few years, of course, we were seriously at war with ourselves, but for whatever reason, the dome kept on rising without interruption.

In recent years, it's gotten leaky, and in 2014 the exterior of the whole dome was covered with scaffolding for a two-year roof-patching job.

Posted by Ellen

In 2009, when Hank was a U.S. Senate page, he got up on top of the Capitol dome one day and snapped this picture, looking down across the roof of the Senate wing of the Capitol building.

It was all clear up there by 2009, but for several years after 9/11, snipers had been posted on that roof and on many other government roofs in Washington.

Posted by Ellen

Runners lunge across the line in the 60-yard dash, 80-pound class. This race was won and lost on September 6, 1924, on the track in back of Central High School, Washington, D.C.

Posted by Ellen

We might pause for a look at the real ruby slippers, once worn by a brave girl named Dorothy when she was far from home, now at rest in a glass case in the Smithsonian.

Posted by Ellen

The latest and greatest in electric lights, as seen in 1917 in the Washington, D.C., showroom of Dulin & Martin Co.

Note that the business ends of the lamp cords were shaped like the bottoms of light bulbs. Those were the days when houses were wired with sockets for light bulbs but not with wall outlets; to plug in a lamp or a toaster or any other kind of electrical appliance, you'd first have to unscrew a lightbulb from the ceiling.

Posted by Ellen

Washington, DC, travel agent and blogger Jean Newman Glock had an hour to kill the other day and a brand new cellphone camera with which to kill it. So, perhaps to model good behavior for her tourist-clients, she headed straight for the National Gallery of Art and pointed her new Nokia at some four-hundred-year-old paintings.

The photos she snapped and published in her blog include this snuffed-out candle, a detail from a 1635 still life, "Banquet With Mince Pie," by the Dutch painter Willem Claesz Heda. "So many theories can be created," notes Glock, "about this hastily ended feast at an obviously wealthy household." 

The trip to the museum apparently left Glock with some long thoughts, as illustrated by the candle gone dark: musings about the brevity of life and the irrelevance of earthly possessions (with the possible exception of that new Nokia Lumia Icon camera with its 22-megapixel sensor and easy upload to WordPress via tablet).

Glock didn't come to her philosophical insights all by herself; she experienced the art that afternoon as part of a National Gallery tour on the theme of "Glimpses of Seventeenth Century Life." Leading the tour was someone Glock describes as "the amazing scholar and docent Sandra Horowitz."

That amazing scholar and docent, Sandra Horowitz, is my mom. I'm busting my buttons here.

Posted by Ellen

"Woman on sled being pulled by biplane, with Washington Monument in the background." February 1922.

Posted by Ellen

During World War II, service flags like the ones hanging in these windows, could be seen in houses all over America. Within the red border of the window-hanging was sewn a blue star for each family member serving in the military. Gold stars acknowledged those killed in action.

The steps these children were playing on in 1942, along N Street SW in Washington, DC, were bulldozed a dozen or so years later as part of one of the country's largest "urban renewal" projects. All the residential and commercial neighborhoods in the city south of the national mall were condemned and all the residents evicted. The buildings were torn down and even much of the street grid scraped away, as a team of builders and designers led by I.M. Pei sought to start over from scratch, to create a 1950s-style urban utopia.

Before the urban renewal, Southwest Washington had been home to several generations of European immigrants and African American migrants from the South. Irish, Italian and Eastern European immigrants, possibly including these families, lived in the neighborhood west of Fourth Street SW, which was then known as Four and a Half Street. The street addresses here would have been very near Four and a Half Street. East of that street, mostly in more decrepit houses, lived African Americans, some of whom had come to Washington as freed slaves before or soon after the Civil War. The two adjacent neighborhoods both produced musical stars in the twentieth century: Marvin Gaye and Al Jolson.

Urban renewal wiped away all the homes, schools, stores, and other buildings except for one church, a fish wharf, and Bolling Air Force Base. A freeway was built through the middle of the new emptiness, with office complexes and new apartment buildings on either side. The project went the way of much mid-century city planning: people did come to work in the office buildings but went home every night as soon as they could, and people did live in the apartments but got in their cars and drove away to shop, play, and generally live their lives. Except at rush hour, neighborhood streets were empty.

It took another half-century, until 2003, before Southwest Washington got its first real grocery store. There has been something of a revival in recent years, as new stores opened and area parks were developed, giving people a reason to go outside and walk around. New apartment and condo projects have increased neighborhood density.

What happened to the thousands of people who were expelled from Southwest in the 1950s, possibly including the people in this picture? I'm not aware that anyone has kept track of them. Not to belittle their fate, but in one way or another, what happened to them happened to millions of Americans throughout the last century. In America, city people rarely stay put in the same neighborhoods generation after generation. People change and seek out different kinds of neighborhoods, and/or the neighborhoods change, pushing people out or leaving them uncomfortable and precariously clinging to homes in places that aren't what they used to be. 

Posted by Ellen

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, a few photographers from the U.S. government's New Deal documentation projects shot a handful of pictures using a newfangled technology: color film. This is one of the surviving prints, probably taken in 1939 by an unknown photographer believed to have been working with the Farm Security Administration.

The girls, who are described in the photo caption as "playing in a park near Union Station in Washington, D.C.,"  are holding osage oranges in their hands. Based on other images in the set, they may have been on the grounds of the United States Capitol building.

Posted by Ellen

In approximately 1920, Washington, D.C., police officer Otto G. Hauschild, at right, came up with the idea of using toy cars to re-enact motor vehicle accidents in traffic court. Here, he and fellow officer George H. Scriven are preparing a case.

Hauschild eventually went to law school and became an authority on the investigation of traffic accidents.