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The Massachusetts State House

Posted in Sculptures & Monuments, United States  by admin on June 21st, 2009

On July 4, 1798, surviving fathers of the American Revolution met in Boston for the dedication of the Massachusetts State House. Governor Samuel Adams and patriot Paul Revere placed the cornerstone, and Revere would later roll copper sheeting for the capitol’s dome. With pomp and circumstance, stone for the building was drawn by fifteen white horses – one for each state in the Union. The State House would come to be known as one of the greatest works of neoclassical architecture in the United States. It also boasts a prime location, sitting on Beacon Hill and overlooking the prosperous Back Bay
and Boston Commons.

When the architect Charles Bulfinch designed this graceful seat of government, he was inspired by the neoclassical Somerset House that rose above London’s River Thames. Architectural buffs describe the State House design as intermediate between Georgian and Federal styles. It is chiefly red brick with white accents. It has delicate Corinthian columns, gently arching windows, and a vast golden dome.

The golden dome has been through a few important changes. The mound was originally covered in wooden shingles. After Paul Revere laid copper sheeting, the dome was finished with gold plating. It was painted gray during World War II to reduce its vulnerability to potential Axis bombers; if there had been a blackout, the government’s dome would’ve shone conspicuously in the moonlight.

The State House dome is capped with a pinecone. This symbolizes the state’s appreciation for the pine tree. Early Boston architecture, including the State House itself, relied upon pinewood from surrounding forests.

As state government grew, Massachusetts built additions to Bulfinch’s work. In 1895, a yellow brick Brigham Annex was erected for new bureaucrats’ offices. Two marbled stone wings were added in the early 1900s to provide fireproofing and additional office space. Inside the State House today are the Governor’s office, the chambers of the House and Senate, and three halls.

Doric Hall is named for the ten Doric columns that line its interior. These were originally carved trunks from pine trees, but today the columns are made of plaster and iron. Doric Hall is home to many statues and portraits, including an 1826 statue of George Washington. In the marble corridor just outside Doric, the “Hear Us” display honors the contributions of several influential women from Massachusetts history, including Dorothea Dix and Lucy Stone.

The Hall of Flags honors Massachusetts residents who served in battles. It displays copies of battle flags from all of the wars in which Massachusetts regiments have participated. (The original textile flags are being preserved elsewhere.) These include flags from the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, Berlin, and Vietnam. The Hall of Flags is also decorated with murals, such as “The Return of the Colors,” which depicts the return of flags after Civil War combat in 1865.

The Great Hall, completed in1990, is the newest architectural addition to the State House. This impressive, airy hall is made of tri-colored marble topped with a glass dome. Circular patterns on the floor were installed to create a clock motif; a few years earlier, the state legislature had acquired an extravagant $100,000 clock made in modernist style. The room is also decorated with 351 flags from Massachusetts localities. The expansive room is used for large state events. A statue of President John F. Kennedy depicts him striding across the Hall – perhaps to meet up with a nearby figure of Horace Mann or Daniel Webster.

Two statues of Colonial American women stand on the State House lawn. One is of Anne Hutchinson, whose religious teachings led to her excommunication from Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1638. She then co-founded Rhode Island on the principle of religious freedom. The second statue is of Mary Dyer. In 1660, Bostonians hanged her for violating a ban against Quakers traveling in their colony. Dyer’s statue eerily overlooks the site of her execution: the gallows on Boston Common. She is one of four people known as the Boston Martyrs. Along with the spirits of Anne Hutchinson, Sam Adams,
John Hancock, and other influential Americans, Mary Dyer’s spirit lives on at the State House.

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Lincoln Memorial

Posted in Sculptures & Monuments, United States  by admin on June 14th, 2009

Inside a Greek-style temple, a 19-foot statue of Abraham Lincoln looks out over Washington, D.C. Above him are the words, “In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.”

Some say that the grandeur of Abraham Lincoln’s memorial does not suit his style; he was a modest man – why immortalize him in a 99-foot tall Greek temple? But supporters celebrate his grand achievements. Shortly after Abraham Lincoln became US President, several states seceded from the Union. Before his presidency ended, Lincoln saw his country through civil war, preserved its union, and passed the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery.

The President was assassinated in 1865 just six days after the Confederate General Lee surrendered. Congress formed the Lincoln Monument Association two years later. However, they did not choose the site in West Potomac Park until 1901. It was 1911 before they appropriated funds; President Taft approved a bill for $2 million. (The memorial’s final cost was $1 million more.) In February of 1914, on Lincoln’s birthday, the first stones were set. The white marble memorial was completed in 1922. It was dedicated on Memorial Day that year, 57 years after the president’s death. Tens of thousands of people were in attendance, including many veterans from the Civil War.

The work was the collective effort of an architect and several artists. The New York architect named Henry Bacon designed the building. He chose a Doric Greek style, much like the Temple of Zeus in Olympia, Greece, complete with the traditional 36 columns. After constructing the columns, he realized that there had also been 36 states in the nation at the time of Lincoln’s death. He then had each column engraved with a state name, and added above them the names of all 48 states that existed by 1922. (Alaska and Hawaii were later mentioned on an inscription leading to the memorial.) The building is massive, with each column measuring more than 23 feet around its base.

From inside the stone building, Lincoln gazes out over the Reflecting Pool and toward the Washington Monument. His larger-than-life figure appears to be a continuous piece of marble, but it’s actually made of 28 interlocking blocks carved by the artist Daniel French. Several types of marble are used throughout the monument, perhaps to symbolize Lincoln’s force for unity; stone is used from Indiana, Colorado, Georgia and Tennessee. One marble wall features an inscription of the President’s famous Gettysburg Address. Another displays his second inaugural speech. The memorial also has murals entitled “Emancipation” and “Union” by Jules Guerin. Ernest Bairstow and Evelyn Longman also
contributed to the memorial’s carvings.

The building has been used as a backdrop for events related to civil rights. In 1939, the African American singer Marian Anderson was told by the Daughters of the American Revolution that she would not sing to an integrated crowd at Washington, D.C.’s Confederate Hall. Eleanor Roosevelt, who immediately resigned her own DAR membership, suggested the Lincoln Memorial as a stage. Anderson opened her act with “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream”
speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. This was also the scene of Vietnam protests and the Million Man March.

The memorial is staffed from 8 a.m. to midnight every day but Christmas. The lower level of the monument houses a bookstore, restrooms, and the Lincoln Museum, which was funded with pennies from schoolchildren. At night, spotlights illuminate the outside of the Lincoln Memorial. The lights seep inside and cast shadows across Lincoln’s face for a spectacular view.

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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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