Tagged: Washington DC

the picture: MLK Jr. Day Edition


The Lincoln Memorial, 2008

The Lincoln Memorial, site of the “the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.”

Dedicated in 1922, the Lincoln Memorial honors President Abraham Lincoln.   Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech from its steps on 28 August 1963. Just eighteen steps below Lincoln’s statue, the exact location where MLK, Jr. stood to address the crowd of more than 250,000 is marked by an engraving.  The memorial was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.



This Week

A weekly round-up of my favorite preservation related stories from around the web and in the newsClick on the title of each story to jump through to the original article/blog post.

How Public Art Can Transform a City – re:Think


Common Threads mural in Philadelphia. Image via Philly 360

“Once the province of sculptors who carved statues from huge blocks of stone, public art has evolved into an essential element of urban placemaking and social engagement. A look at the rise of public art — and how it’s changing cities.” Many public art pieces take advantage of historic buildings and places!

George R. R. Martin, Author and … Movie Theater Guy? – NPR


The Cocteau theater was dark for seven years until Martin purchased and renovated it. It reopened in early August. Image via NPR

George R.R. Martin’s hit fiction series A Song of Ice and Fire has sold more than 25 million copies and sparked an HBO adaptation, Game of Thrones, that won two Emmys in 2013, bringing its total to 10. But many fans are grumbling that Martin hasn’t been spending enough time of late in his mythical kingdom of Westeros and its surroundings. On the list of things Martin is doing instead of writing the next Game of Thrones book? Restoring and opening an historic movie theater in Santa Fe.

The Ugliest Church in DC Will Be Knocked Down – Washington Business Journal


Designed by a student of I.M. Pei, the Third Church of Christ, Scientist in DC is an example of Brutalist architecture. Image via NPR

A Brutalist church in Washington, DC will meet with the wrecking ball later this year after a two decades long battle.  The Third Church of Christ has wanted to redevelop the property since 1991, just 20 years after the building was constructed, because of “structural inadequacies and deficiencies.” The same year, a preservation group applied to make the building a historic landmark, an honor it was awarded in 2008. But landmark or not, a settlement has been reached and the building is coming down.

Why Should Diplomats Care About Cultural Sites and Objects? – Take Five

“Some of the most undervalued tools in the public diplomacy toolkit explicitly recognize the fact that more often than not, a nation’s sense of self is closely connected to its cultural heritage.  The value of a particular cultural monument, an example of historic architecture, or a specific artifact in a museum goes well beyond its retail or tourism value, but instead is truly priceless in the eyes of those who consider it a part of their national identity.  There are well-known examples of how disputes over ownership of such culture, including the Elgin Marbles or the Preah Vihear Temple, have led to tense international relations and even armed conflict.  Few are aware, however, of how we routinely use cultural heritage to our advantage in public diplomacy.”

Sign of the Times: When Renovation Means Erasing the Past – NY Times


Simon Schubert’s “Untitled (Large Hallway),” 2013. Image via NYT

The fetish for destroying historic houses to feed the hunger for infinite white space has led to a global style of architectural homogeneity.  For the first time in history, the more money you’ve got, the emptier your home is. The Victorians were criticized for their ‘horror vacui,’ the fear of empty space that led to rooms cluttered with bookcases, pictures and bric-a-brac. The new rich suffer from the opposite condition:  ‘amor vacui,’ or the love of empty space. Across the world — from London to New York, from Paris to Florence — the new tycoons’ houses have become vacuums.”

Part II: The Sounds of Lincoln

My interest in Steven Spielberg’s  Lincoln was first piqued when I heard a story about the sounds used for the film on NPR. Okay, that’s not strictly true. My interest was actually peaked when I heard Daniel Day Lewis was cast in the eponymous role.  A Brit as Lincoln? Quel horreur! But let’s get real, Lewis is one of the greatest living actors of our time, not to mention the choosiest (he’s only made 5  films in the last 15 years!) so the screenplay for Lincoln must have some meat to it. And seriously, just look at him! Spitting image.

Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln. Image via NPR

But I digress… back to the sounds used in the film. From the ka-chunk of a carriage closing to the thud of boot steps, the sound sound designer for Lincoln went above and beyond to make the film sound authentic.  Creating authentic costumes and creating authentic sets and/or using historically accurate sites so that a film looks right is one thing, but I’d never heard of going to so much trouble for sound.

Sound designer Ben Burtt, whose accolades include whipping up the iconic sounds of light sabers for the Star Wars franchise, dispatched a team of sound engineers across the country to record the sounds Lincoln did/might have heard in DC, South Bend, IN, and Frankfort, KY.  Why? He told Guy Raz, “I felt, well, here’s a chance to get in touch with actual history. I always do research when you’re collecting sounds and making sounds for a film, and authenticity is normally not necessarily the prime directive in doing sound design. You’re always searching out sounds that have the right emotional impact and they may not even be authentic at all. But for this film I didn’t want to make guesses. I wanted to essentially capture the spirit of what might have been.”

The Sounds of St. John’s and the White House, Washington, DC

St.John’s Episcopal Church. Image via Wikipedia.

In DC, the sound crew recorded at St. John’s Episcopal Church, where Lincoln worshiped, and at the White House.

According to historical accounts, St. John’s figured prominently in Lincoln’s life in DC.  He would often walk to the church in the evenings. “He was always alone,” said Hayden Bryan, executive director for operations at St. John’s. “The president would arrive quietly and leave before the services ended to walk back to the White House. He would sit by himself. He had no aides. No security. Before the service ended, he would get up. The worshipers didn’t even know he was here.”

Lincoln’s Pew at St. John’s. Image via Juicey Ecumenism

At St. John’s the crew recorded noises from head to toe, so to speak. They climbed into the bell tower to obtain the unadulterated sound of the bell tolling – a sound Lincoln would have heard from the White House just across Lafayette Square from the church They also recorded the creaking of the “Lincoln Pew” as Byran sat and stood and the sounds of footsteps on the floor boards. “These are the actual floor boards Lincoln walked on to get to this pew,” Greg Smith, film professor at American University and sound engineer for the film, said.

At the White House, they recorded a French clock purchased during Andrew Jackson’s administration that was on the mantel in Lincoln’s executive office. The sound is used in the movie in many scenes filmed in Lincoln’s office.  Other audio effects collected from the White House included the sound of the latches as doors opened and closed, and the sound of someone knocking on those doors. As well as the sound of heavy boots on the White House floor.

The Sound of Lincoln’s Pocket Watch, Frankfort, KY

Recording Lincoln’s Watch. Image via KHS

“I could have recorded a watch that belonged to my great-grandfather, and the audience would have accepted it,” Burtt said. “But there is something sacred about working on a film about Lincoln.”   Kentuckians would agree.  As I mentioned yesterday, Lincoln is a big deal here in the Bluegrass State.

To record the ticking of Lincoln’s personal pocket watch, which is in the collection of the Kentucky Historical Society (KHS),  Smith traveled to Frankfort, Kentucky. Where, according to museum director Trever Jones at the KHS blog, historyburgoo.com, “We set up in the ‘vault’ – the quietest and most secure room in the building – and began recording. Greg [Smith] has worked on numerous films and had chosen his equipment carefully. I attached a small microphone to the watch while Bill [Bright] positioned everything just right in a box to muffle ambient noise while Greg recorded. We recorded the watch open and closed in various ways until Greg pronounced that he had everything he needed.”

Lincoln’s Pocket Watch. Image via The Lexington Herald Leader

The circa 1860 watch had not been used in decades, but watch expert and KHS curator Bill Bright, reported it to be in perfect working order after examining it.  The timepiece is a “yellow gold key-wind hunting-case pocket watch” with a porcelain dial from Tiffany and Company.  It is believe that the watch was purchased by or gifted to Lincoln after he became president. It is speculated that Lincoln may have been carrying the watch the night he was assassinated at Ford’s Theater.

If you want to see and hear Lincoln’s watch, it is on display in Frankfort at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History.

The Sound of Lincoln’s Last Ride, South Bend, IN

Lincoln’s Carriage at the Studebaker Museum. Image via A Little Touch of History

The carriage used to transport President Lincoln and his wife to Ford’s Theater  the fateful night of his assassination is on display at the Studebaker Museum in South Bend, Indiana.

The audio work was done by Donnie Rogers, owner of South Bend-based  Grassroots Media. The audio session at the museum took about 30 minutes, Rogers said. To eliminate background noise, the museum shut down the air handlers on the air conditioning system and closed the overhead doors in that section of the museum. “We used a sound blanket to build a small room around ourselves,” he told the South Bend Tribune.  The sounds of the carriage doors opening and closing and the the sound of it’s metal springs and suspension were captured for use in the film.

The carriage was built in the early 1860s by Wood Brothers of New York, an upscale carriage manufacturer of that era. It has a collapsible leather hood and fabric-covered padded seats. It is believed to have been a gift to Lincoln.

It’s in fragile condition, the carriage went through a careful process to stabilize it in 2007.  During conservation, workers discovered the carriage originally wasn’t black, but rather painted dark green with burgundy, gold and white details with an elaborate cursive presidential monogram — A.L. — on each door. After Lincoln’s death, the carriage was purchased by a DC area doctor and used in his practice.

Despite all the trouble of traveling around the country recording “authentic” sound effects, the sounds in Lincoln are speculative. The creak of his pew at St. John’s Episcopal has probably changed since Lincoln last visited in the 1860s, the timbre of the bell may have changed over the 150-ish years, and his carriage certainly took years of abuse while in the doctor’s service that may have changed the sound of its springs, and suspension, and its doors opening and closing.  Even knowing that the sounds are probably not the same as the sounds that Lincoln heard, the concept is intriguing and the effort put into these details is impressive.  I know that when I watch the film, I will be listening extra close for the ticking of watches and clocks and foot steps – all the sounds that normally just blend into the background.
What you do you think about the sound extremes? Was it worth it? Have you seen/do you plan to see Lincoln?