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Archive for May, 2009

The White House

Posted in Sculptures & Monuments, United States  by admin on May 31st, 2009

Sixteen-hundred Pennsylvania Avenue is among the most famous addresses in the United States. The 132-room home and workplace has also been known as the “President’s House” and the “Executive Mansion”, but since 1902 it’s officially been called the White House.

When George Washington was President, government meetings were held in various cities. He and Martha Washington kept two homes in New York and one in Pennsylvania. Seeing the need for a federal city, the President and Congress agreed in 1790 to the Residence Act. This provided for a district “not exceeding ten miles square…on the river Potomac”. The new federal city would be designed by Pierre L’Enfant, and the city planner would hold a blueprints contest for the President’s house.

James Hoban, an Irishman living in South Carolina, won the competition with a classic Georgian design. (Thomas Jefferson was also among the entrants; he competed under a pseudonym.) Hoban based the building on a duke’s palace in Ireland.

Two states, Maryland and Virginia, ceded land for the new federal district. Both were slaveholding states, and slaves broke ground for the home. The work was completed by European immigrants. The new house wasn’t built in time for the Washingtons to move in; John and Abigail Adams were the first to take up residence in 1800.

The building has undergone countless changes since the years of John and Abigail Adams. Interior redecorating and structural changes started with the next resident President, Thomas Jefferson. He ordered French furniture and French wallpaper, and he added space outdoors to conceal stables and storage. Other Presidents would make even larger additions: Theodore Roosevelt — who had six children and required more space – contributed the West Wing; and FDR added the East Wing during World War II to conceal construction of an underground bunker.

Each Administration’s time at the White House brought something new, but here are some of the more notable changes:

* British soldiers burnt the building in 1814 during James Madison’s presidency. Most of the home and its contents were destroyed by fire. A thunderstorm saved outside walls, and Dolley Madison rescued a famous portrait of George Washington. The architect James Hoban was available for renovations.
* The White House needed an extensive washing after 20,000 muddy partiers celebrated Andrew Jackson’s inauguration. Jackson soon installed running water. He also planted magnolia trees and made plans for later landscaping.
* James Garfield installed the first elevator.
* Harry Truman extensively renovated the whole house and added a second porch. He also added basements for wartime safety.
* The White House was made more wheelchair-accessible during FDR’s service. A pool was also added in consideration of his physical challenges.
* Richard Nixon cemented over the FDR pool to create a Press Briefing Room.
* Jacquelyn Kennedy directed the most extensive and historically accurate White House restoration. She also planted a flower garden.
* Rosalynn Carter contributed an “Office of the First Lady.”

Today the White House Complex consists of six stories and 55,000 square feet of space. The Executive Residence spans several floors. Two basement levels also provide storage, service areas, and a bomb shelter for the President’s family. The West Wing holds executive offices including the Oval Office, the Cabinet Room, and the Situation Room. The East Wing is home to offices for the First Lady, White House correspondence staff, and other White House staff members.

Some of the interior is visible to the public, but tours must be pre-arranged by a member of Congress. Visitors might tour the State Floor, where several rooms are simply named by color: the Green Room, Red Room, and Blue Room. The Green Room is named for the moss green silk that lines its walls. It’s used for informal meetings and photo opportunities with foreign political leaders. Famous Green Room paintings depict Benjamin Franklin, John Quincy Adams, and Abigail Adams. The Red Room is decorated like an early-1800s parlor with a marble mantel. The Blue Room is the White House’s most formal setting. It’s shaped like an oval and is furnished with gilded furniture. This is where the White House Christmas tree is traditionally placed. Visitors might also see the Map Room, the State Dining Room, or the famous Lincoln Bedroom.

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An Overview of Death Valley

Posted in Sculptures & Monuments, United States  by admin on May 12th, 2009

Describing Death Valley brings a potpourri of superlatives: hottest, driest, lowest. In 1913, the valley hit a record 134 degrees Fahrenheit! But despite its brutal image, Death Valley is a beloved mecca for geologists and other nature lovers. It also has a colorful history of ghost towns!

Death Valley measures approximately 3,000 square miles. It spans the border of California and Nevada and is the principal feature of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts Biosphere Reserve, which is devoted to ecological conservation. The diverse landscape features desert sand dunes, snow-capped mountains, and a vast expanse of multi-hued rock. It is also home to uniquely adapted plants and animals. Among the mammals, for example, are the black-tailed jackrabbit, the long-tailed pocket mouse, and the chisel-toothed kangaroo rat!

Death Valley is surrounded by several mountain ranges, including the Sierra Nevadas, the Amargosa Range, the Panamint Range, and the Sylvania and Owlshead Mountains. Encircled by peaks, the valley has the lowest dry elevation in North America at 282 feet below sea level. (The continent’s lowest point overall can be found at the bottom of Lake Superior, but Death Valley contains the lowest spot on dry land.)

The valley is especially noted for its geologic splendor. The cliffs reveal rock layers spanning from Precambrian to modern times. By studying the layers, geologists learn about the earth’s condition in the distant past. For example, layers from the late Pleistocene reveal that the valley was once filled by a freshwater lake, now dubbed Lake Manly. The valley was partly filled again during flash flooding of 2004 and 2005. Still, at that time the water was only two feet deep; before the last ice age, it measured 800 feet!

The 19th century saw many mining camps set up when rock layers revealed valuable minerals. Men were drawn to gold and silver discoveries in the 1850s, and they mined Borax in the 1880s. They gave their camps names like Chloride City, Skidoo, and Panamint City. The mining camps usually became ghost towns within a few years.

In most cases, little remains of these Death Valley mining towns besides stories about their lively inhabitants. Skidoo, for example, is marked only by a sign. It once had a population of 700 and is infamous for having the only hanging in the valley. The hanged man was Hootch Simpson, a down-on-his-luck saloon owner who tried to rob the town bank. He was foiled and later returned to kill an employee! The townspeople hanged Hootch that night. In fact, according to legend he was hanged twice: once for real and once again for the benefit of photographers.

Visitors to Death Valley can ssee a few ghost town ruins, such as those of Panamint City. Panamint was reputedly the roughest town in America! Its founders were outlaws hiding from law enforcement. Although 2,000 people eventually resided there, Wells Fargo refused to open a Panamint bank because of the inhabitants’ lawless reputations.

Although prospectors left the valley when mining became unprofitable, Native Americans have lived in Death Valley for more than 1,000 years. Timbisha families, who are part of the Shoshone tribe, still reside at Furnace Creek. They received 7,500 acres of ancestral homeland with the Timbisha Shoshone Homeland Act of 2000. As of 2000, only 31 people lived at Furnace Creek, setting the record for lowest census in the nation.

Death Valley National Park is open year-round, but considering the summer heat, most people find the valley’s winter climate more comfortable.Since 1933 Death Valley National Park has offered extensive public works for visitors’ comfort. These include developments such as campgrounds, picnic facilities, and hundreds of miles of paved roads.

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