Thursday, November 28, 2013

I Hope You Don't Mind, I am Bringing My Friend Tisquantum To Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving, the day which almost every American family gathers together to give thanks for what they feel blessed to have, but mainly all we do is stuff our faces and watch football...and there is nothing wrong with that. Everyone knows the story of Pilgrims, the Mayflower, the landing at Plymouth Rock, the inviting of the Native Americans and so on. Then Americans know more contemporary History about the holiday, Congress passed a law in 1941 making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November, the Macy's Day parade has been bringing in the Holiday season since the 1920s, Abe Lincoln set the first Thanksgiving in 1863 and so on...ok well most people don't remember that stuff. But the one often forgotten part of not just Thanksgiving, but the first Thanksgiving is my main man Tisquantum, or as he is better known as, Squanto.

The Teaching of Agriculture in the High School

Squanto, what do we know about him? Well not much. Everything we know about him is second hand and kinda legendy. For instance, historians aren't even sure when his birthday is, which is why there is no Squanto Day holiday. They also have no idea where he was born, so instead of continuing to research it, they take an "educated guess" and say he was born somewhere around present day Plymouth. What is know about the young Squanto is he was abducted by Captain George Weymouth. But believe it or not, they aren't to sure about the year, best guess is 1605, and better yet they are not sure where the captain found him, some say along the coast near Plymouth, others say somewhere along the coast of Maine. It was after this that Squanto was taken to England, taught English and trained to be a guide and interpreter for future English expeditions to the New World. Ok, so Squanto experts know two things for sure, I wonder if they know if Squanto liked tea and cricket as well.

The Teaching of Agriculture in the High School

Squanto was supposed to return back to his people in 1614. He should have but a man by the name of Thomas Hunt, abducted Squanto and several other Native Americans and planned to sell them in Spain. Luckily for Squanto and the others, some local friars caught wind of Hunt's plane and helped the Natives escape. The friars then intended to teach the Natives about Christianity, Squanto on the other hand was more interested in getting home. So he made his way from Spain to London and then hooked up with John Slany, a shipbuilder, who taught Squanto more English and then stuck him on a ship heading to the New World...well it would be Squanto's Old World...he was going home in 1617. However, when the ship reached Newfoundland, Squanto was informed he'd need to receive permission in order to go back to his native lands. So he hope back on a ship to England, go the permission need and finally was able to return home in 1619. The home coming was not the kind of fairy tales however. Squanto learned that after he left, his people were killed off by the settlers, either through warfare or disease. It is here that Squanto falls out of the scope of written history, but don't worry he comes back again.

In 1621, Squanto had been living with the Wampanoag Indians. When fellow tribesman Samoset made initial contact with the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock, Squanto was called up to be the middle man between the Pilgrims and Wampanoag. Squanto then acted as an ambassador for both groups. It is believed by Squanto historians that if not for his help that the Pilgrims would have never survived their first harsh New England winter. Again, this is where fact means legend, but it is believed that Squanto taught the pilgrims how to farm the lands of Plymouth Rock and how to fish the waters around it. Squanto basically retaught a group of city slickers how to live in the untamed wilderness, he was basically the 17th century Les Stroud. This of course is what Americans today celebrate as the first Thanksgiving, even though that isn't the first Thanksgiving.  Squanto was a diplomatic statesman by this point, having allegiance to his people but feeling morally obligated to helping the new settlers survive, he was more or less a 17th century Henry Kissenger. Towards the end of 1621, he acted as a guide and translator for Stephen Hopkins and Edward Winslow. He was even kidnapped by his own people, in which Myles Standish responded by getting a posse together to rescue Squanto if he were alive or, if he had been killed, to avenge him. He was found alive and well, but because of the rescue attempt by Standish, Massasoit, the sachem of the Wampanoag lost trust in Squanto and sent Hobomok to keep an eye on him and be second in command.

Squanto continued to work closely with the Pilgrims, as a guide, translator, diplomat and so on. In November of 1622 while returning to Plymouth after a meeting with the Wampanoag, Squanto fell ill and developed a deadly fever. To make the story of Squanto even more interesting, a few days before he fell ill, while planting corn, his nose began to bleed, something Natives viewed as a death omen. he died on November 30, 1622 in present day Chatham, Massachusetts at the age of 37. It is believed by some Squanto experts that he was poisoned at the meeting by the Wampanoag, as they viewed Squanto as more of a traitor everyday he helped the Pilgrims. To the Pilgrims, the death of Squanto was devastating, as Governer William Bradford wrote, "His death was a great loss." But what is most important about Squanto is his selflessness. He was taken from his home at a young age, returned to a "New World" and then torn between two peoples. The life of Squanto is something Americans should look back on for inspiration. He faced countless trials and always overcame. He worked to make his changing world better. He acted a a bridge to peace, as even after his death the diplomatic works he arranged last from another 50 years. So today after reading this maybe it's time to give Squanto his due, even  though some of the piece of his life are missing the parts that are known make him a true hero. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Who Needs A Skyline Filled With Skyscrapers Anyways

There are two things most major American cities have in common, silly laws and skyscrapers, among other things as well, but that is another topic. For example, New York City's tallest building is One World Trade Center at 1776 feet, and the city has a law, which has probably never been enforced, were a fine of $25 can be levied for flirting. In Chicago, the tallest building is the Willis Tower, aka the Sears Tower, at 1451 feet and a city ordinance that kites may not be flown within the city limits. In Los Angeles the tallest building is the U.S. Bank Tower standing at 1018 feet and just in case you were wondering it is still illegal for dogs to mate within 500 yards of a church. I think you are getting the point, but could there be a major American city that set a height limit on its buildings? Doesn't that sound kind of un-American? Well, there is such a city and that city is ironically, Washington DC and it's Heights Building Act of 1910.

Most people have heard that buildings in Washington DC can not stand higher that the Capital Building. This is where fact meets myth. It is true there is a height restriction but the limit is not the Capital Building. In reality the law comes from the previous Heights of Building Act of 1899, that and the construction of the Cairo Apartment Building. The Cairo was built in 1894 and was 12 stories higher than the surrounding buildings, and stood at 164 feet tall. This caused two things to happen, first residents of DC freak out and dub the build "Schneider's Folly," after the buildings designer, Thomas Franklin Schneider. Second the upset residents petitioned Congress to stop other potential "skyscrapers" from being built. The Heights Act of 1899 was passed and enforced under the idea that the new technologies used in building these "skyscrapers' were untested and ultimately doomed to fail. Not wanting the nation's capital to become a chaotic scene of destruction from faulty construction the law stood and no residential building could pass 90 feet, while commercial buildings were allowed to be as high as 110 feet.

By 1910, Washington DC was growing and the city need more building space. Instead of scraping the Heights Act of 1899 they simply amended it. Section 5 was added in 1910 and made a few adjustments.I won't bore you with the measurement details but basically buildings in DC would now be allowed to be built a few feet taller and wider, but it depended on where the building was as well. Now, why did the city wait ten years later to change their building codes? Well, the building techniques were shown to be safe and the city wished to keep up with the architectural times of the 1910s. But it's been over 100 years since the Act was put into law, so why has there never been a push to build up the skyline of our nations capital?

There have been several attempts to change the Heights Act of 1910 since its enacting, but they have all been turned down. The most notable was in 1991 when Congress disapproved of a DC Council law that would amend the Heights Act. Most recently in 2012 there was the "Changes to the Height Act: Shaping Washington, D.C., for the Future" hearing. Once they hearing is completed, which should have been on November 14th of 2013, the finalized outline and documents will be given to the chairman Darrell Issa (R) of California for a possible update of the Heights Act. Along with lawmakers, developers have been licking the chops and can hardly hold control themselves when it comes to the idea of building in DC. The developers claim that amending the Heights Act will benefit the city and at the same time update it. But local residents beg to differ claiming that the law has made DC a unique place unlike any other nations capital and they also don't seem to mind the city being so short either.

The idea that Washington DC's skyline has been effected by the Heights Act of 1910 is just bunk. And the idea that buildings in DC can not be built higher than the Capital Building is also just silly. However, the idea has been spread by articles in the Washington Post, The American Surveyor Magazine and even the WE Love DC blog which just proves that these guys just don't know how to fact check. But, back to DC's skyline. The skyline of DC is something unique in America. Instead of being lined with buildings that are a testament to making money, the DC skyline is filled with buildings and monuments that are a testament to America. When you walk around the city and look up and see the Capital Building's dome, the Washington Monument or the National Archives Building you see structures that honor the spirit of America. Or if you see the Cairo Hotel, the Old Post Office Pavilion or  Healy Hall you can see architectural history come to life without straining your neck. The idea the DC needs to have buildings as tall as New York or Chicago or Los Angeles is wrong. DC is the nationals capital and should have a certain aesthetic to it, tree lined streets, open spaces, clear skies, a vibrant city that all, Americans and visitors, can enjoy and not just another concrete jungle. Sometimes simplicity is the best design.