Monday, September 19, 2011
Pierre Charles L'Enfant, master designer of the original Washington City, had big plans for Lincoln Park. He conceived of it as a grand federal park, a gathering place for all of DC, a central space for the new capital. He believed Lincoln Park would be the point from which all distances in North America would be measured. Wow. That's why Lady Liberty (on top of the Capitol) faces east, why the Lincoln Emancipation statue used to face west.
Even the best made plans by high fallutin' masonic capital designers can go the way of the dodo. The park was originally used as a dump. Grand space, indeed. Later they built Lincoln Hospital on the site, during the Civil War of course. Walt Whitman visited patients there many a time. His footprints are all over the park.
As it turned out, the center of federal DC developed to the west of the Capitol instead, hence Lincoln Park became at last a quiet neighborhood square that is enjoyed, mostly, by those of us who live here. It is not a tourist spot in general, though every now and then a bus will stop so a group can see the Lincoln Memorial.
Fast forward to my years on Tennessee Avenue. Lincoln Park was a means to an end, mostly, a space I crossed on my way to and from Eastern Market. In fact there's a path cut diagonally across the park, originating at the foot of Tennesssee Avenue, ending at the corner of N. Carolina and 11th. I wasn't the only one making a beeline for Eastern Market, crossing the park without paying much attention.
When I first moved to the Hill, Lincoln Park was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. During the day kids in strollers with their nannies hung out at the old playground, dog owners gathered in groups while their dogs frolicked, people played frisbee, or lay on the ground reading books. In the mornings on Saturdays a group gathered to do t'ai chi.
But at night, all kinds of creepy stuff went down, based on the crack pipes, used condoms, and syringes that were scattered around in the mornings. The city was good about cleaning up, and in those days the parents always scouted the playground for detritus before turning their kids loose.
The lawn between the Mary McCloud Bethune and Lincoln statues was the scene of one of Jake's famous Ben-Hur moments when, in a fit of enthusiasm he began to run laps around the outside of the lawn. Shadow, who was also at the park at the time, chased him, of course to no avail. When she got tired of running she sat on the sideline. Every time Jake ran past her, she would bark angrily and snap. To this day I have never seen Manuel, my ex housemate, laugh so hard. Ah, those were the days.
Now that I no longer live on Tennessee Avenue, and work in the same building I live in, Lincoln Park has become "the circuit." I walk the perimeter between clients if I have time, or after work if I don't have time. I walk it at least once a day, come rain or shine. It's astonishing to realize I never did this when I lived on Tennessee. I wonder why?
I am very lucky to live close to L'Enfant's grand park, especially because it isn't so grand after all. The dogs, dog owners, nannies and kids, the people playing frisbee, are still around. I'm thinking the nighttime scene has settled down, too, probably. The park radiates a happy, welcoming vibration. I haven't seen a used syringe in years.
The tree in the pic below has been giving me the eye lately. The face is not subtle, and his eyes follow me when I pass that part of the park. What is he thinking? Can you tell?
Happy Monday to all. Shalom to the people and trees.