Category Archives: Uncategorized
September 3, 2012 Working To Create a Fitting Memorial: Contrabands and Freedmen’s Cemetery Memorial on Pace for Spring 2013 Opening [Alexandria (Va.) Gazette Packet (08/30/12)]:
Alexandria — In Spring 2007, the City of Alexandria purchased a desolate and overgrown lot on the southern edge of town and promptly razed the site’s two buildings.
Six years later that same spot is going to be an historical and appropriate homage to that place’s unseen — and unheard — inhabitants when the city dedicates the Contrabands and Freedmen’s Cemetery Memorial this spring.
The project, which will cost around $11 million, receives funding from the City of Alexandria, the Federal Highway Administration, Virginia Department of Transportation, a grant from Save America’s Treasures, and funding from a partnership between the National Parks Service and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Following July’s groundbreaking ceremony, construction crews have been working on location six days a week.
The freedmen’s cemetery at the corner of South Washington and Church streets has been owned by several entities since it was closed in 1869.
Freedmen were African Americans freed from slavery by their owners. Contrabands were slaves who escaped to freedom or were brought within Union lines during the Civil War.
While the property’s previous owners literally bulldozed their way there to benefit business, the city has taken quite a different approach: it is redeveloping the area to revere the grave sites.
The cemetery has been blanketed with several hundred truckloads of fill soil to make way for a grass mixture of fescue and Kentucky bluegrass.
The plantings and construction plans follow closely on the heels of almost two decades of extensive and non-invasive archaeological analysis. Archaeological findings have identified about 540 known graves, said Alexandria city engineer Emily Baker.
“We didn’t move dirt,” said Mitchell Bernstein, civil engineer for the city. “We just took off the vegetation at a very shallow depth, and then brought the soil in. The only digging we did was in a preventative manner, to make sure we weren’t violating any graves.”
Archaeologists have located grave shafts, and in many cases, the outline of hexagonal “shouldered” style coffin tops, through identifying changes in soil color and texture. According to city records, no grave can be associated with a particular person.
This renovation is hardly only aesthetics or grass deep, assured city officials, who said that the project has been undertaken with a great deal of historical and cultural sensitivity.
“The challenge is trying to construct something as a suitable memorial and not have any negative impact on the cultural resource,” Baker said.
The centerpiece of the memorial area, called a “Place of Remembrance,” is an open space housing interpretive walls with several panels detailing the cemetery’s history, and a list of recorded names of the interred based on information from the Gladwin Record. A listing maintained from 1863 to 1869, the record includes information of those interred, including their name, date of death or burial, next of kin or individual providing the report, residence or place of death, and additional comments about the burial or cause of death. A sculpture is to be installed at the front of the open space.
Fifty-three feet long and 31 feet wide, the place of remembrance is the highest point in the cemetery, where a Mobil gas station once stood.
In recent years the cemetery was a roadside brownfield strewn with trash, including slab remnants of the gas station and an office building.
A portion of the office building’s foundation on Church Street will stand, because the project’s planners wished to not gloss over past transgressions of the cemetery. “They didn’t want this to be forgotten,” said Bernstein.
The city has taken a painstaking approach toward design and construction with respect to the graves.
To that end, 8-inch diameter steel helical piles will be used as foundations to anchor some segments of the galvanized steel tubing fence line.
While sturdy fence construction often utilizes larger diameter inserts, the narrower ones used here are suitable fence anchors that won’t disturb nearby gravesites.
“It minimizes the footprint of the pier,” said Bernstein, who was onsite earlier this month.
Bernstein motioned over to the outer proposed fence area, where different colored stakes indicated proximity — and safe construction distances — adjacent to gravesites. “We have a variable system designed,” he said.
Workers of Garcete Construction Company Inc., of Bladensburg, Md., are following cues from Bernstein and Mitchell to maintain the sanctity of the grave sites as work progresses.
“Everything had to be designed very carefully, to avoid the graves,” Baker said.
The city will lay place markers on the grave sites found during the archaeological studies. Some of them will be outlined with borders to give visitors a sense of scale, Baker said.
“A lot of the people buried here were children, and a lot of the shafts were very small, so you should be able to get a sense of the size of the child that was buried,” Baker said.
City records show that more than half of the 1,800 people buried in the cemetery between 1864 and 1869 were under the age of 10.
Survey information indicates gravesite positions. “We have the survey data that shows exactly where they are located, so we can come back after they are finished with the grading,” Baker said. “They will put down the grass, and then we will go back and relocate them and put the markers on top of the coordinates.”
The cemetery holds not only the graves of freedmen and contrabands. The oldest artifact yet found in Alexandria, a 13,000-year-old Clovis spear point, was recovered here in 2007. A marker will be placed at its recovery site.
Additionally, a place marker will be laid to commemorate a spot where 124 United States Colored Troops were buried. These soldiers’ graves were disinterred in 1865 and moved to the Soldiers’ Cemetery, now the Alexandria National Cemetery.
A gentle westward slope descends to a low-lying area, which at one time led to a creek. This section will be designated a “passive” portion of the memorial, conducive to walking and gathering. This area is outside the archaeological protection zone, where trees will be planted, along with a walkway.
July 12, 2012 Q and A of Va. Former First Lady Roxane Gilmore by David Shephard (The Virginia Gentleman blog) on Renovation of Va. Governors Mansion
Aesthetics and politics are, at times, strange bedfellows.
Friend and fellow blogger David Shephard explores this concept in a June 26 interview this year with Roxane Gilmore, former first lady of Virginia, on her experiences renovating the Virginia Governors Mansion.
Virginia Gentleman: I know it must have been an honor to spearhead the renovation of the Governors mansion, but with such extensive renovations taking place did you get to spend much time in the House?
Mrs. Gilmore: “It was one of my greatest honors as First Lady of Virginia to serve as Chairman of the Committee to Restore the Governor’s House. We were asked before Jim took office to undertake the restoration and Jim was told that we would have to move out for a year during construction. He agreed to move for 6 months and our committee was able to develop a plan to accommodate that and still finish a quality project on time. The entire project took 2 years, but we were only out of the building for 6 months.
Virginia Gentleman: The Virginia Governors Mansion will be 200 years old next year. Was it built with the purpose of being the executive mansion?
Mrs. Gilmore: “The first governors of Virginia served while the capital was still in Williamsburg and they lived in the Governor’s Palace. Thomas Jefferson, the last governor to live there, actually made plans to put classical features on that house such as a colonnade (these plans still exist in his papers) which were never carried out. When the capital moved to Richmond in the 1780’s, Virginia’s beautiful Capitol, modeled after the Maison Carreé in Nîmes, France was constructed. There was a house already in Capitol Square where governors were expected to live. It was in such poor condition, however, that many governors refused. Money was finally appropriated and a new Governor’s House was finally built and ready for use in May 1813.”
Virginia Gentleman: I know there was some work done on the Governor’s Mansion during the Baliles administration in the 1980′s. What did they do?
Mrs. Gilmore: “In the late 1980s the exterior of the house needed extensive work and the Baliles administration decided at that time to return the house to its 1823 appearance. The exterior appearance of the house underwent numerous extensive changes over the years that I discuss in my book, and Baliles chose to use that early era as its focus.”
Virginia Gentleman: The mansion was totally renovated during the Gilmore administration. My understanding is that the House was basically gutted, and thoroughly renovated. Describe the extend of the renovation? How long did it take?
Mrs. Gilmore: “No, it is not correct that the house was totally gutted. In fact, the first floor, the floor that still contained historic features, was left in large part and new modern features that were added to serve that floor were done either from above or below. We wanted to preserve as much of the historic fabric of the building as possible and it is that type of decision that I discuss in my book. As I mentioned above, the entire project took two years. But it is now a 200 year old building – it will always have needs.”
Virginia Gentleman: I would imagine that anytime there is such a massive renovation of an historic home there is the concern about how to preserve its original look. Describe some of the steps taken to keep the home as close to Alexander Paris and Duncan Lee’s original intent.
Mrs. Gilmore:“This is a very complex question and one that is impossible to answer in this space. Because it is an important question for this house, that is one of the reasons I document in my book the choices we made and why. Briefly, however, our project began by identifying how we were going to incorporate both architects since each had such a dramatic influence in the house. They are both represented, we believe in a way that accents their special marks on the structure.”
Virginia Gentleman: The House was built in 1813 by famed Architect Alexander Paris, but in 1906 Virginia architect Duncan Lee did some remodeling. What did he do?
Mrs. Gilmore:“It is a dramatic understatement to say that Lee did “some remodeling.” His work was incredibly extensive, altering the entry hall, making two separate back parlors into the large Ballroom of today, and adding an octagonally shaped Dining Room. Features of his changes have been the subject of debate since their installation and I address many of those in my book. But even with these dramatic changes, the footprint of the original Alexander Parris building is still there.”
Virginia Gentleman: Most Virginians only see the first floor of the House, but was the renovation as precise and extensive on the second floor?
Mrs. Gilmore: “By the time of the restoration the only historic space remaining on the second floor were three rooms across the front of the house. They were in fairly good condition and we restored those as we did the first floor. However the back of the living quarters had been significantly altered over time and it was that space that we began anew. A new addition on the northeast corner, in fact, gave the First Family a full kitchen with a small dining area in the living quarters for the first time.”
Virginia Gentleman: You had the opportunity to live in the House. Did you have a favorite feature or room in the House?
Mrs. Gilmore: “Because of the work that we did, the entire house is special to me and it is impossible to pick one feature or room over another. In the Ladies Parlor I was honored when Scalamandre renamed the wallpaper border that we chose, Roxane’s Lyre, in my honor. I was proud that we were able to wallpaper made like some we found in the basement that dated to the 1840s and was probably that added by Governor Extra Billy Smith. We put that wallpaper in the Lafayette Bedroom and had a special tester made for the bed and draperies for the windows. Architectural Digest put a feature picture of that in their article about the restoration. But I could go on, and I talk about many more things in my book.”
These are all excellent questions but ones that really require a great deal more discussion than I can do here. I urge people to read my book, Restoring the Virginia Governor’s House, Preserving a Historic Home for a New Century, to learn about the entire project. It can be obtained from The Dietz Press, http://www.dietzpress.com, 804-733-0123 or on Amazon or from Barnes and Noble.”
May 16, 2012 Feature Story: A Combination of Experience, Optimism and Kind Ambition: Silberberg Makes Run for Alexandria City Council Seat
By Mark McHugh
Without hesitation, Allison Silberberg stated the topic most on Alexandrians’ minds when she meets them.
And it’s not The Economy.
“Every voter won’t even let me speak before they ask me about the waterfront,” she said. “I can’t even finish saying my name before they say: ‘What’s your opinion on the waterfront?’”
Silberberg is one of 14 Democratic candidates running for six seats on Alexandria City Council. The primary election is June 12.
At last month’s debate between Silberberg and her counterparts, the waterfront development plan was among the most-discussed topics.
The council in January voted 5-2 to approve the controversial plan, which originally called for the construction of three hotels. The January decision limits the number of hotel rooms onsite to 300, with no more than two hotels with 150 rooms per hotel.
Many citizens have criticized the city’s decision for not being transparent – even dismissive – of their concerns during the waterfront plan decision-making process. “People are angry across this city, and rightfully so,” Silberberg said.
To Silberberg, the waterfront plan’s progress is about more than just politics. The way it’s carried out could set precedent for future development, with potential to bulldoze over citizens’ concerns as similar future endeavors are considered.
Such a precedent, she said, holds this historic city’s future in a historic pendulum.
In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post last December, she wrote that new incoming revenue (from a responsibly developed waterfront area) and historic preservation can co-exist – as long as careful, creative development plays a role.
In that written piece, and in her campaign platform, she calls for construction of a “people’s waterfront” plan, and a permanent, small arts venue in Oronoco Bay Park for events and gatherings.
Silberberg agreed with former Alexandria Mayor Patsy Ticer, who felt that the plan in January was ‘not ready for prime time,’ and Silberberg would have voted against it. “I feel that the waterfront plan, while improved, was not visionary enough,” she said. “And our city deserves something that is bolder and more creative.”
At play in City Hall is a transportation initiative, in which the city proposes a free trolley route from the King Street Metro into the Arlandria neighborhood. The trolley is slated to travel north on Mt. Vernon Ave., and turn at Reed Ave. before returning downtown.
Last week at a candidates’ forum sponsored by the New Latino Movement, Silberberg was the only candidate to raise the issue of the Del Ray Trolley. She wants it to go further into the heart of Arlandria, extending at least to Russell Rd. before taking its return route. “I find it incredibly short-sighted, and even insensitive, that right now it is slated to stop at the edge of Arlandria,” she said. “And it would be good for the businesses there, too.”
Just as controversial as the waterfront development plan, the Mark Center Building (also known as BRAC-133) was built leaving many issues unresolved – one of which is its effects on traffic flow in an already saturated stretch of highway.
A public rallying cry (“Don’t BRAC the Waterfront”) took hold as citizens collectively drew comparisons between the waterfront plan and BRAC.
The Mark Center Building is not Metro-accessible. Located on 16 acres at Seminary Rd. near Interstate 395, it holds over 6,000 employees.
She describes the public dissatisfaction that’s been expressed to her regarding the behemoth-like Mark Center Building: “Yes it’s built. But we want to know – how did this happen, and how can we prevent this from happening again? A building that size being built without a Metro stop is not acceptable,” she said.
A self-described “scrawny, short kid,” she practiced daily to place third on a Dallas tennis team of her youth. “I practiced every day and I ended up number three, against all odds, with a racket that we bought used for thirty bucks,” she laughed. “I am a person who perseveres.”
Silberberg is proceeding with the same kind of tenacity, backed by a long history of community activism, her own brand of friendly thoughtfulness combined with the skill and sophistication of an individual who not only understands how things should work, but actually do work.
An Alexandria resident since 1989, she is chair of Alexandria’s Economic Opportunities Commission (2010 – present) where she’s been a member for the past eight years. She has led and managed several charity events that have netted over $50,000 for local nonprofits in the region in the past decade. She is the recipient of two community service awards.
Her candidacy has received endorsements from The Hon. Patsy Ticer (former Alexandria mayor and former State Senator) and Va. State Senators Richard Saslaw and Adam Ebbin. She is also endorsed by former City Councilwoman Joyce Woodson, and former School Board member Eileen Cassidy Rivera.
A longtime Member of the Alexandria Democratic Committee, she was also Virginia Coordinator of ReDefeatBush in the 2004 election.
Her career began under the auspices of luminaries such as the late U.S. Senators Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Lloyd M. Bentsen (D-Texas). Her sense of political optimism has roots back in the early 80s, while interning in Kennedy’s office. She was the only intern at the time not from Massachusetts.
“Every day I walked into that office I felt this sense of mission and I knew right then and there that I wanted that sense of mission every day of my life. And ever since then I have been trying to fulfill that dream,” she said.
She was in the Senate galleries one day in the fall of 1983 to hear the late U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) give excoriating and racially charged remarks against the establishment of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a federal holiday.
As Silberberg looked on, Kennedy abandoned his prepared speech, stood up and said that Helms’s vitriolic statement was exactly why the U.S. needed a holiday as this to honor the slain civil rights leader.
Twenty-five years later, she recalled these moments in a column published by the Washington Post, titled “The Moment that Carried This Day.” In it, she wrote: “It was his [Kennedy’s] finest hour, and Helms’s worst.”
Silberberg’s platform calls for a city-wide beautification jobs initiative program by coordinating with The Corps Network, mirroring President Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps program.
Her platform also highlights tutoring, after-school programs and apprenticeship programs. As a leader, she wants to focus on GED and ESL programs for students, which she says would lead to more education and therefore more economic opportunities.
Additionally, “I would like to see us teach entrepreneurship at T.C. Williams in conjunction with the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship,” she said. Much more about her platform is at: http://www.allisonsilberberg.com.
At the height of the “Crack Wars” in 1993, Silberberg founded Lights, Camera, Action! (LCA!), a nonprofit devoted to mentoring and helping youth in Anacostia realize their potential through filmmaking.
Silberberg wants to form partnerships with nonprofit organizations, such as the Enterprise Foundation, to build and provide affordable housing for Alexandria residents. “Affordable housing is at a tipping point,” she said.
Currently, the city is embroiled in conflict surrounding redevelopment plans, particularly over the Beauregard Corridor debate. The plan, if carried out, would displace over 2,000 residents in a 30-year period, according to news reports.
Silberberg has authored Visionaries In Our Midst: Ordinary People who are Changing our World, a book about individuals who are making a difference in America. Visionaries has received endorsements by Studs Terkel, Pete Seeger, Helen Thomas, Marvin Kalb, and Paul Loeb.
She is grateful to the volunteers who have helped her campaign thus far. With donations ranging from five dollars to $1,000, she makes calls
to all donors, no matter what the size of the donation. “Every donation means something to me. It is important for me to thank them,” she said.
An April finance report from the Virginia Public Access Project showed funds raised by city council candidates from January 1 through March 31. Silberberg’s campaign, which officially kicked off in late March, has raised over $15,000, with about $6,200 cash on hand, according to the report.
This is an all-volunteer campaign that is not driven by huge funds, but it has garnered a wide spectrum of support, Silberberg said. “I have nothing but my heart, and my ideas, and my commitment and my passion.”
February 29, 2012 Notes: Nine (or so) Reasons Why I Can’t Stop Reading ‘Freedom’ by Jonathan Franzen
I aim for no responsibility or reportage in this posting, I just wanna shoot from the hip, and say why I just cannot put this book down.
I must admit I postponed reading Freedom; it had not appealed to me initially. Everyone was raving about it. If someone screeches about how good a book is and insists that it must be read, it’s most likely to gather dust on my shelf if it makes it home in the first place.
Also, I was still scratching my head over the famous snubbing of Oprah’s Book Club for The Corrections, and then the choice (was it capitulation?) to have his latest work on her list and appear on her show.
Freedom starts in a whisper and then it drags you, like an unsuspecting and tricked catfish, unmercifully in.
I’ve at times thought he held his characters in contempt. That had also been a turn-off from reading the new book. But then, with more reading, I found his Freedom characters, at times, a contemptible lot worthy of criticism.
Ultimately, those characters are a mirror reflection of our society as a whole. Franzen hasn’t boiled all of us down to yuppified latte-with-soy sipping saps, he shows that his characters (like us) can be fragmented, complex, and at times, confused.
The book shows how enslaved our society has become to not only technology, but the reducing gravity of materialism.
He paints a scene at a parents’ weekend at an eastern Quaker university: between programs mothers and daughters, to add to their conversations, compare their cell phones and the devices’ capabilities. On a New York sidewalk, one of his characters barely misses getting clipped by a young mom and her child as they whoosh by with a souped-up coupe of a baby carriage.
I appreciated the book’s cynicism.
But what really had me hooked was his stark honesty about some of the accepted behaviors in society, like do-gooding for the sake of appearance.
In a way he is saying we are all hypocrites no matter what flag we wave, sticker we place on our car (if it’s a Volvo, even better), or fair-trade, hormone-free organic milk we drink.
In the middle of the book, three characters discuss the impact of Big Business/politics and exurban sprawl on the environment, and its effects on the fate of a songbird, the Cerulean Warbler. Walter Berglund, a lawyer, tells why he has taken up the warbler’s cause:
“I took the job in the first place,” Walter said, “because I couldn’t sleep at night. I couldn’t stand what was happening to the country. Clinton had done less than zero for the environment. Net fucking negative. Clinton just wanted everybody to party to Fleetwood Mac. ‘Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow?’ Bullshit. Not thinking about tomorrow was exactly what he did environmentally. And then Gore was too much of a wimp to let his green flag fly, and too nice a guy to fight dirty in Florida.”
In a one-two punch, Freedom delivers some square hits to not only Clinton and Gore, but later also to rocker Sheryl Crowe (another Midwestern expat, like Franzen) for doling out rock ‘n’ roll hits as meaningful as a pack of chewing gum, specifically wintergreen Chiclets.
No one, not even the so-called heroes of the left and center-left, get off scot-free. Walter takes a stab at altruism, but mightily shows his own weaknesses as he profits from a land reclamation scheme.
And while the warbler’s assurances of survival ( like ours) are at risk, we strive to accumulate more goods to distract ourselves from reality, and we dismiss one of the most important things given to us: freedom.
And with this compromised use of freedom and awareness comes destruction of sincere communication and ultimately an individual’s centeredness. Self-centeredness prevails to society’s detriment. Walter discusses how technology has led to the demise of civic discourse:
“It’s like the internet, or cable TV – there’s never any center, there’s no communal agreement, there’s just a trillion little bits of distracting noise. We can never sit down and have any kind of sustained conversation, it’s all just cheap trash and shitty development.”
Later, Walter decries the fast-paced and unwitting approach to life and discourse as contributors to the destruction of everything authentic and meaningful.
Perhaps the most liberated subject in the book is the warbler itself, with its unabashed singing voice.
But, alas, the gift of free will is fraught with complexities. “It’s a pain in the ass sometimes,” to quote Walter’s son Joey.
Franzen has TKO’d me with Freedom. And I’m not even halfway through it.
The ball dropped in Times Square, and that was the end of this very educational past year.
Holy cats, what a year it was.
The television screen showed confetti streaming onto the streets; people were embracing, kissing and dancing. But by 12:01 a.m. on New Year’s Day, none of that stuff (confetti, noise, dancing) was on my mind. I was already making plans for my first spring bike ride.
I put my coffee down on the coaster atop a nearby bureau, and blew into one of those expanding paper curlicue New year’s horn things. I took a pass on the noisemaker this year.
After a puff into the silent horn, I returned to conversation.
“Yes, D.C. is a great place to bicycle,” my friend Kathleen said. We gave one another the obligatory hug to ring in the year. Then all of us went around the room, hugging one another. Time stood still for a peaceful eternity that actually only lasted a few minutes.
On TV, people were gyrating, singing melodies that were certainly not music to my ears. I kept talking to Kathleen.
“So when do you get that sling off?” she asked. Kathleen was referring to a black Velcro monstrosity hung over my left shoulder and strapped around my torso. With a four-inch thick block wedged between my forearm and abdomen, my forearm jutted out from my chest. I looked like a blocking rugby player.
I’d been wearing the sling since three days before Thanksgiving, when I had rotator cuff surgery to reattach two tendons, suture the cartilage in my shoulder socket, and grind off a bone spur.
I told her that Epiphany (the real Christmas) was when I would be sling-free, but unable to bicycle until March. That’s okay, I guess.For me, a very active person, late March is an eternity away.
But on that night, it wasn’t the biking that was so much on my mind – It was the nylon-appearing thread and metal sutures that resided in my shoulder. It was my torn labrum that I was thinking of. Sharp pains reminded me of the nylon and metal residents in my upper arm.
And what is the labrum? Well, I can’t tell you much about it, except don’t tear it. I tore mine in two places.
A fibrocartilaginous entity, it lines the shoulder socket and serves as harbor and shock absorption site for the upper portion of the humerus, also sometimes referred to as the shoulder bone.
The labrum is like a washer, except washers don’t hurt when you tear them. I tore its upper region, in addition to its outer rim adjacent to my chest. The injuries were a SLAP lesion, and a Bankart’s Tear, respectively. Surgery, after a few postponements, was late last November.
My doctor was incredibly skilled, and quiet. His demeanor, at times, has been akin to that of Barry Bonds. But it wasn’t friendship I sought for my shoulder last autumn; it was surgical mastery.
While he showed me the MRIs in October to tell me of eminent surgery, I belched out a string of profanities in protest. He looked at me as though I were behaving like an indignant 15-year-old (which I was).
“Good luck,” he said, and walked out the door into the office hallway.
The first week (Thanksgiving) was a haze of sleep, Vicodin, pain, homemade Asian food from my house mates, Thanksgiving turkey and untied shoe laces. I don’t think I actually tied my shoes until the first week of December.
By day eight, I was off Vicodin and told my house mate upstairs to please place the vial in safe keeping, or the Potomac River. I didn’t mind all the sleeping, but I hated the god-awful slowness Vicodin afforded me.But the Vicodin got rid of the pain.
Imagine sandpaper, or two sheets of sharkskin rubbing in your upper arm, and screws holding the complex all together – that’s the post-operative condition of rotator cuff surgery.
I had a similar procedure in 2008 on the right shoulder, but this time around it was different, i.e., worse – because back then I didn’t tear any cartilage.
By day nine, I was watching DVDs again. A hardcore movie buff, Netflix can’t typically keep up with my film order cue. What I really wanted to do that first week was read; a movie was too demanding. And I wanted to sleep.
After the first week, I started physical therapy. And that will probably continue another two months; it’s a long road I we take to build up the muscles and strengthen their new anchor sites after surgery.
It was a blessing to make a trip to my hometown of St Louis. I was showered with gifts, food, and love.
But, perhaps the best gift I got this Christmas was from my brother. He is a very wise, accomplished man. He plays it safe. A large-animal veterinarian, he works alongside angry bulls, steers, and cows in dirty stalls. He gets hurt, but not as bad as I do. He knows when to walk away from the ledge. Now, I am finally ready to follow suit.
He shook my hand and hugged me with his Mark McGwire-sized arms as we said goodbye. “Be safe,” he told me.And that was our parting Christmas farewell.
I don’t go for New Year’s resolutions, but I’m gonna give up rockclimbing for this year, and this life. I think I’ll follow my brother’s advice this year. This is my four-leaf clover.
Happy New year, to all of us.
Family Ties connect with Freedmen’s Cememtery
By Mark McHugh
The undeveloped patch of grassland overlooking the Capital Beltway at the south end of Old Town holds deep meaning for Alexandria-native Fran Burton.
With help from a genealogist, Burton, 62, recently unearthed the fact that two of her ancestors are buried at the historic Contrabands and Freedmen’s Cemetery, a once neglected and now soon-to-be-renovated 150-year-old cemetery.
“It almost knocked me off my feet,” Burton said about the discovery of the final resting place of her great uncle and a thrice-removed cousin. “It made me so dizzy that I had to catch myself. It brought out emotions I didn’t even know were there.”
The Contrabands and Freedmen’s Cemetery opened in 1864 and, within just five years, more than 1,800 former slaves and United States Colored Troops were buried there.
Now, after decades of neglect and encroachment by highways and developers, the cemetery is slated to undergo a $2 million facelift beginning this winter when a construction company begins building a memorial to those interred there.
The term“freedmen” refers to African Americans who had been freed from slavery by their owners. “Contraband” was a term used by the Federal government during the Civil War to describe a slave who escaped or was brought within Union lines.
Burton’s freedmen ancestors came to light last fall with the help of world-renowned genealogist Char McCargo Bah, who has assisted the City of Alexandria to identify descendents of those interred at the cemetery.
William Henry Norton, who was buried there in 1866, is Burton’s paternal great uncle. Leanna Robinson, interred 1865, is her maternal thrice-removed cousin. Both died in childhood.
Burton said that she suspected her ancestors were buried at the cemetery. “But I never expected to find someone that close to me [as a great uncle],” she said.
Burton, who now lives in Sacramento, Calif., feels that she owes it to her ancestors to discover more of their pasts.
“Something has happened that brought me this far, and I am going to find out the rest of it,” Burton said. “Things are falling into place, and it’s time for their stories to be told.”
TODAY at the corner of South Washington and Church streets, honeysuckle and roses crawl toward a chain-link fence. Glass bottle shards are scattered about the adjacent sidewalk. Placards attached to the fence state “Most of the people here were destitute”and “More than half those buried here died by their 10th birthday.”
While the Federal cemetery closed in 1869, it was likely used unofficially by families as a burial ground until the late 19th century, according to historians. A brick company, while digging for clay on the cemetery’s hillside in the 1890s, chanced upon human remains. In the 20th century, a gas station and an office building were built on top of some of the graves.
Interest in the site was renewed in 1987 when City historian T. Michael Miller found an 1894 Alexandria Gazette reference to the cemetery. An advocacy group, Friends of Freedmen’s Cemetery, formed soon after and pushed to preserve the site, particularly from disruption by construction of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. The gas station and office building were demolished in 2007 and the site was rededicated as a cemetery soon after.
THE MEMORIAL is spearheaded by the City of Alexandria and the Friends of Freedmen’s Cemetery, with funds the Federal Highway Administration and the Virginia Department of Transportation, and a grant from Save America’s Treasures, a public-private partnership between the National Park Service and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
More than 200 architects and designers from 20 countries across the world competed for the memorial three years ago. Alexandria architect C.J. Howard took first place; second and third runners-up, respectively, were: Santosh Dhamat, Elizabeth Eubank, Solvita Marriott, Tracy Revis of Howard & Revis Design Services; and Paul Simon & Regan Harrold of Beals and Thomas, Inc.
The memorial will include a three-sided enclosure serving as a “Place of Remembrance” at the highest point in the cemetery. Bronze plaques on a wall will feature the names and time of death or burial of those interred. Stone markers will be placed at known grave locations. An arched entrance gateway from Washington Street will invite visitors to walk past grave locations to the centrally-located enclosure.
The City plans to advertise for potential contractors, said Alexandria city engineer Emily Baker. “We will have a contractor on board this fall,” she said.
Baker said construction will begin early this winter. “It will be before the end of the year,” she said, when construction begins.
Pamela Cressey, the city archaeologist, said that archaeological studies in the last decade found the locations of more than 500 of the 1,800 graves. Cressey said that oftentimes only the shape of a grave remained in the soil. In other cases, only coffin hinges or the buttons of a shirt were left.
“The graves are closer to the surface than you might think,” she said. “If they [the original grave diggers] did, in fact, dig six feet down, it’s no longer there.” Cressey said that today citizens favor site preservation over expedited development.
“I think it’s the voice of descendents and the community that has altered the collective conscience of Americans,” she said.
Baker said the new commemorative memorial is a chance for the city to rectify past wrongs done toward the cemetery and those interred there.
“This is an opportunity for the City to correct this regrettable situation,”she said.
-Published Sept. 8, 2011, p. 10 in
Alexandria Gazette Packet
Tags: Alexandria, Alexandria Gazette Packet, Char McCargo Bah, Contrabands, Contrabands and Freedmen's Cemetery, Freedmen, Leanna Robinson, Pamela Cressey, Place of Remembrance, Va., William Henry Norton
Every year, in late September, I walk the aisle of Halloween doodads in the CVS or Walgreeens. I try to predict which motion-sensitive freak thing will howl a spooky Halloween threat my way.
Usually, the offender is a small, plastic thing from China. It’s a skull with flapping jaws, or a rubbery jack-o-lantern. Their greetings range from a “Happy Halloween” wish to a shriek of doom. No matter the messenger, it’s not a pleasant experience.
What they tell me is one thing: Christmas season is coming soon. And all these festive orange and black wares in the seasonal merchandise aisle will soon be replaced by green and red flashing lights, aluminum-wrapped milk chocolates and Christmas cards.
Christmas is what saves us at the end of the year. It may be in the form of bumped-up retail sales figures, year-end bonuses, or even a newsworthy beautiful lunar eclipse.
I think, for me, Christmas this year saved me from my own insular inclinations, as I buckle down for the colder months ahead and scour my mind for story ideas.
This holiday season, I am away from my nuclear family, and it’s been a quieter Christmas than usual. I’ve chased away my feelings of missing them by bonding with friends here in Washington. Many people have asked me if I am in the “Christmas spirit?” I still don’t know what that means. Forced seasonal joy/spirit never worked for me.
I Forgave You!
I think the “spirit” of Christmas season rekindled in me when I reunited with a friend from the early 90s, whom I met when I first moved to Washington 20 years ago. Brad now lives in Mount Pleasant, a beautiful neighborhood of rowhouses that cling like crooked vertebrae along the ridges flanking Rock Creek Park and the National Zoo.
When I lived in Mount Pleasant from 1991-1994, it was a little rougher. There had been a riot a couple blocks up the street prior to my moving in to a group house on Adams Mill Road. There was also a maniac who roamed the streets with a shotgun in the spring of ‘93, killing four people and severely injuring several others.
An increased police presence and reinvestment in the neighborhood turned things around later on. But, despite those incidents, Mount Pleasant has always been a hotbed of liberals and intellectuals. The two words in the neighborhood’s name aptly describe the place.
He was smoking a cigar on his front porch when I got out of the truck and greeted him for the first time in almost 15 years.
“Ha! You still look the same,” he shouted with a controlled exhalation of cigar smoke. His announcement was encouraging, even though I am sporting hair crop-dusted with an ever-increasing amount of gray.
But his greeting was always his way: never insult by stating the obvious. He, too, had kept his positive and friendly nature from the days way back when.
We both recounted a Mt. Pleasant incident years back where he saw a man on the street there who was trapped under the wheels of a cheating girlfriend’s car. While she continued backing-and-forthing over his legs with the automobile, he kept yelling to her: “You cheated on me and I forgave you!” Some stories you just never forget.
Brad told me of his life and career paths in the past 15 years: living in New Zealand and other places in the U.S., several global concert tours supporting major international pop music stars as a video technician. His time on the road included a lengthy run with the Rolling Stones for their “Bigger Bang” tour. I was happy, intrigued and jealous all at the same time.
I told him of my crazy appreciation of the Rolling Stones; that I had always loved their music from the first time I heard “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” when I was 10 years old. From then on, I was a confirmed ‘Stones fan. After that night, all my Beatles albums gathered dust, while my copies of “Hot Rocks” and “Tattoo You” got scratched from overplay.
He gave me a gold, holographed stage pass from one of his shows. It depicts the famous tongue-and-lips logo, and it now hangs from the rear-view mirror in my truck.
I hadn’t seen my friend, Jamie, since 2005. “Welcome back,” he said on the phone. “I’ll come by your house next Saturday at four p.m. And it’ll be a late night, because we’re going on the town.”
I met Jamie back in 1991, through a college friend. Jamie is the only person I can talk in-depth with about Steely Dan in all its phases: their producers, studio musicians for particular albums, critical reception to each album. It’always an education in music when I sit down with him.
He has this contagious and enthusiastic smile that, while it’s somewhat maniacal, can put you at a complete calm. Moments later, you can spy him, his eyes closed, flashing a Buddha grin that achieves the same effect.
We were driving eastbound on Rte. 50 at a casual 60 mph, and were being passed on both sides by spastic drivers. “They don’t know that they’ll get caught speeding on this stretch of road here. It’s a speed trap,” he said with that beaming grin. “I know that because I was born-and-raised in the DMV.”
I suspected his parents had worked at the Va. Department of Motor Vehicles, and that he had the inside scoop where all the speed traps were. I asked him as such. “No man, I mean I am from the DMV – the District, Maryland, and Virginia,” he said. The evening ended around 11 p.m., after devouring kabobs in Crystal City.
It’s Hard Being Santa
Shortly after that, Jamie went to teach an hour-long drum lesson to one of his students on Capitol Hill. I had time to burn for that hour, so I walked to Eastern Market and called Greg, whom I have been friends with since I was five. Greg’s family in 1971 had moved to Lee Avenue, just houses away from mine. We’ve known one another a long time. “Come on over,” Greg said. “My parents are here and they’d love to see you.” So I shut off my cellphone and made for his house. Little did I know I would have such a great Christmas dinner the following week with him.
Forty years later, Greg and I still laugh about times on campouts with our fathers from our days in Boy Scout Troop 300 from Webster Groves. We lost touch in high school after I went to Catholic high school and he went on to public high school. We reunited again after graduating college in 1990.
Right out of college, he took me back East for my first-ever visit. Since that summer, I’ve always wanted to live near the ocean and mountains.
In summer 1990, he and another recent graduate, Jim, and myself managed a kitchen at the Wellfleet Beachcomber on Cape Cod (“Summer Begins and Ends Here” was at one time the Beachcomber’s motto). Well, Greg and Jim did the managing. I mainly provided entertainment for them and all the other kitchen employees. Half-priced Rolling Rocks and oyster juice flowed with abandon that short, but dearly missed, season of my life.
That summer, when I wasn’t drinking, I was shucking oysters and cooking bar food. When I wasn’t shucking oysters and cooking bar food, I was walking Cape Cod dunes looking for scenes from Edward Hopper paintings.
Greg now lives on Capitol Hill with his wife and two children in a beautiful recently restored rowhouse. He has the only home of any of my friends where the kitchen is the focal point of the first floor. He and his family graciously invited me over for Christmas dinner.
For old times’ sake, another guest and myself shucked a dozen oysters for dinner.
His parents, Denny and Carol, met me at the door. Their mutual and kind greeting was just like when I was a kid entering their Webster Groves living room. Denny, always upbeat, is a good storyteller. With his full beard, he harkens Ernest Hemingway and Oliver Sacks, but counters them with his friendly laughter.
When we were kids Denny was a professor at Webster College (now Webster University). He told us a Christmas story.
Someone in the Webster faculty brainstormed having someone dress up as Santa Claus during finals week. Students were to have their pictures taken sitting on Santa’s lap. Denny, white-bearded even back then, was the best candidate for the job. He took the charge, knowing that college kids would be a little off-balance in such a situation.
It ended up, he said, being fun, but also a time of student grievances: I didn’t get the doll I wanted when I was a little girl, or Christmas makes me sad. That’s a lot of pressure for the figure of Santa Claus to contend with, Denny told me.
All of those expectations we place on ourselves and others at Christmastime.
To some of the students he remembered saying with some sadness: “It’s hard being Santa.”
I drove home and tucked into bed by midnight to awaken at five a.m. for work the next day. It was cold driving home on darkened Rte. 50, and both entering and getting out of bed the next day. The house was empty and cavernous; it had the sadness of a Bruce Springsteen song. I might as well have spent the night in a highway motel.
But my stomach and heart were full from all of these wonderful Christmas people, these gifts in my life.
I think I’ll cut Santa some slack this upcoming year. Start me up.
Tags: Capitol Hill, Christmas, CVS, Eastern Market, Edward Hopper, Jumpin' Jack Flash, Mass., Steely Dan, the DMV, the Rolling Stones, Webster Groves MO, Webster University, Wellfleet, Wellfleet Beachcomber, Wellfleet Oyster
I got off work last Thursday night at 10 and that was none too soon.
I put $20 of gas in the truck and drove to one of my favorite haunts to remove the odor of organic groceries, mopwater and dollar bills off my hands. Destination: Chick and Ruth’s Delly in Annapolis, Md. They offer corned beef sandwiches (lean and with a plastic side pan of pickles) for $8. It’s always worth the trip.
Besides, it’s a straight shot off Route 50 to get there. I’d rather travel Rte. 50 for my social outings in Annapolis over driving the Beltway to Washington any day. Rte. 50 is four lanes going back and forth from Annapolis to Bowie; the Beltway to D.C. is a perpetually moving labyrinth full of 70 mph fickle, lane-changing death-challengers.
I pulled into town and parked around 11 p.m. Annapolis was incorporated in 1708. To say Annapolis is an historic place is a statement of gross misunderstanding. This city was once the capital of the United States, and is today the capital of Maryland. When you walk these cobbled streets you are walking over centuries of history and consequence. Your ancestral pedestrians on any town walk here have been sailors, slave-traders, tobacco merchants, new world explorers. Kunta Kinte was forcibly and maliciously brought to this harbor in 1767 to begin his American, historic and bittersweet, journey.
Not Like David ‘Bowie’
I am a newly arrived visitor here, and need to graciously act like one. I’ve only been here a couple of weeks and love it already. Long ago in college I became interested in Maryland when my Reporting II instructor had us read articles from her former employer, the Baltimore Sun. She loved that paper’s copy for its clarity and purpose, she said.
Marylanders are proud of their location and heritage.
And it’s a noble, time-tested pride as far as I can see: Maryland was the seventh of 13 states to ratify the U.S. Constitution. The county I live in, Prince George’s County, was founded in 1696. I live in Bowie. You can always tell an outsider or visitor like me by the way they pronounce my current residence. People like me say “Bowie,” as in David Bowie. Locals pronounce it “Boo-ey.”
Almost all the people I work with are Marylanders, and they’ve all told me where they are from, and where they now live in Maryland. I have co-workers who are graduates of University of Maryland-College Park, and Johns Hopkins. Terps basketball tickets are constantly in demand in the Baltimore-D.C. region.
At Chick and Ruth’s, they even name their sandwiches after Maryland politicians.
Annapolis hosts two storied universities, the United States Naval Academy and St. John’s College. Both institutions offer differing curricula: one schools its students in studies arts and letters, the other in the classical treatises of naval warfare.
Upon entering town limits, a fox crossed the road before my headlights, its eyes glaring in defiance back at me with a swish of the tail. A good omen, I thought. My father always said something interesting was bound to happen when a fox prowled nearby. Perhaps tonight I might learn something new, I told myself.
I ate my corned beef sandwich, watched the Baltimore Ravens lose a nail-biter to the Falcons in the last minute, and finished my Dr. Brown’s black cherry soda. Not too far down the dining area was a bearded man in a black cowboy hat. A giant guitar case sat beside him. He was kind of loud, but I could tell he was friendly. I put on my coat to pay my bill and leave.
“His name’s ‘The Sheriff,’ the young man Jim, behind the counter, said as he handed me my credit card. “Well, he’s not really the sheriff,” he said. “But he ran for sheriff of Queen Anne’s County in the election, and lost. But we call him ‘Sheriff.’ Sometimes he plays folk music while we close up. You oughta stick around.”
So I did. I figured it’d be a good idea to meet The Sheriff, and listen to him. I overheard him between football plays and corned beef bites discuss what’s right and wrong with our country.
“There’s no more bad people than there always were,” The Sheriff had said. And there’s the same amount of good people there always were. It’s just that all the people in the middle — they aren’t up to par.”
The stuff of story, and truth, I thought.
Jim introduced us. He, too, told me he was called The Sheriff, but that he also went by the name “Security Pete.”
He took out his guitar and played songs. Some were old country covers: Willy Nelson, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson. He handed me his Martin and I chimed in with some John Prine, Dylan, and even Elton John.
He put the guitar in its case and told me a few things. We spoke of how and when cops pull people over on the side of the road. I told him I got pulled over 5 times in my home state of Missouri in the previous four years’ residence there. Most of the times, it was because my car just looked suspicious: broken (but functional) headlight, rust-riddled fenders, Rolling Stones window decal.
Security Pete said people driving run-down cars are easy targets for lazy police officers who should really be tracking down criminals. People with run-down cars make good scapegoats and write-ups, he said.
“Those guys pulling you over aren’t cops,” he said. “They’re criminals. They should be going after the bad guys, and they won’t.”
Security Pete said that, after his 40 years in law enforcement, he thinks that the cops today are bought and sold not by the judges, the law, or even the drug dealers, but the System. And when you are a good person – cop or citizen — and you step out of line with the System, you aren’t gonna get any backup from your peers. In the end, he said, you ride alone.
Those people who ride alone, he said, are the average Joes, the ones who get pulled over for driving beat-up cars, and they end up in the legal system for minor charges, like burnt-out headlights or minor speeding infractions.
“You’re the most ‘anti-cop’ cop I’ve ever met,” I told him. He laughed.
A retired and decorated Baltimore City police officer who began work in the 1960s Baltimore ghetto, he knows law enforcement, and the good and bad natures of law enforcers.
He said if he would have won the election for Sheriff, one of his first actions would be to educate citizens about their rights when dealing with police officers because people are ignorant of their rights. But he was defeated by another candidate who Pete claims outspent him in advertising.
I gladly took the business card that he offered. It shows a 1976 photo of a uniformed Pete and another officer apprehending a cop-killer onsite following a gun battle which took the life of one police officer and wounded five others.
I arrived home around 2 a.m. and pulled into my quiet cul-de-sac in Bowie. I was tired. Just the day before, I had walked into a newsroom in Annapolis, seeking work as a stringer or reporter. It was a cold-call to their newsroom; working up the nerve to make cold calls always takes energy. Fake it ’til you make it.
Since leaving Bowie three hours ago, ice had formed on the mailbox in front of the house. It was crystalline and cold to the touch. Security Pete was right. We ride alone.
But, if we pay attention and listen, we’re likely to meet some good people along the way.
Tags: Baltimore City Police, Bowie, Chick and Ruth's Delly, corned beef, David Bowie, Kunta Kinte, Maryland, Queen Anne's County, Rolling Stones, Rte. 50, Security Pete, St. John's College, U.S. Naval Academy, Washington Beltway
September 19, 2010 Feature Story: Race against Time and Diminishing Light: An Intern Architect’s Battle with Usher Syndrome
Megan O’Neill remained seated on the couch in her Shaw neighborhood apartment in St. Louis and thought for a few seconds before she spoke.
“Coping with it,” she said, “is always changing.”
Despite her young age of 26, she is not given to displays or statements of frivolity. Megan just received her bachelor’s degree this year from one of the top art and design schools in the country. While in college, she was diagnosed with a debilitating condition that not only obstructed her studies, but served as an obvious major distraction.
She was telling me last week how she deals with her vanishing eyesight, and that she has lost most of it over the past ten years. “I can only see through a pinhole,” she said.
Additionally, she wears hearing aids to compensate for major hearing loss. Thick, flowing auburn hair conceals the devices in both ears.
I nervously grinned, and said I couldn’t tell. I suggested she’d been hiding her low vision from me during evening conversation with her and her boyfriend, Jeff. “Good,” she laughed. “I’m tricky about it.”
Megan has Usher Syndrome, a genetic disorder that afflicts 20,000 Americans, according to the Usher Syndrome Foundation. It is the leading global cause of combined deafness and blindness. In the United States, about four babies in every 100,000 births have Usher syndrome, according to the National Institutes of Health. Of the three types of Usher Syndrome, Megan has type II. With type II, infants experience moderate to severe hearing loss and gradual loss of vision. There is no cure yet for Usher Syndrome.
However, Megan O’Neill does not suffer from lack of vision. If anything, she has more vision than most of us who can physically see, with or without the aid of glasses. She is an intern architect at the St. Louis office of HOK, one of the most storied and prestigious architecture firms in the world. A 2010 Bachelor of Arts graduate of the Sam Fox School of Design at Washington University, she wishes to make universal design (a design protocol that considers people with or without disabilities) a more prominent feature in future architecture.
“In the last six months, I’ve started thinking that my avant-garde type of contribution to architecture will be at the forefront of universal design,” she said. In her earlier days in school, instructors always reminded students to include accessibility in their building plans. “It would always kind of irk me,” she said. “Now that I am on the other side of that, I am designing for myself, as well.”
Architecture has always been her calling, dating back to a career day event in the third grade. An architect spoke before her class that day. “He told us that we could take cardboard boxes and make houses out of them,” she said. She went home and immediately started building dollhouses and painting them. “It was then that I knew.”
Flashes of Light
Her encounter with Usher Syndrome goes back a long way, too. Her parents were told she was moderately to severely deaf when she was three. She said it was probably difficult for them to detect it, for she had taught herself up until that point to read lips.
She attended Central Institute for the Deaf before grade school at St. Gabriel the Archangel in South St. Louis, and graduated from high school at Notre Dame High School in 2003. She later enrolled at the KU School of Architecture in 2006, after studying at University of Missouri-Columbia and St. Louis Community College-Meramec.
She had experienced loss of vision dating back to when she was 16, but it wasn’t until her year at KU that she began having major vision difficulties. She noticed that she had to frequently use the banisters at the school’s steps, while other students were zipping up and down the stairs. Dizziness and compromised balance had become unwelcome companions. In February 2007 she was diagnosed with the syndrome.
“There’s no physical pain,” she said of her ailment. “It just kind of weighs on you.”
The signposts of vision loss, she said, are startling and quick. She said she can be doing something very routine, like walking or reading, and there is a sudden, brilliant flash in her eye. “Every time you get a flash, one of the rods or cones are dying. Rod cells and cone cells, photoreceptors in the retinas, are modified neurons that assist in night vision and day vision, respectively.
“It’s going, going, going, and there’s nothing I can do about that,” she said.
Not only do rods and cones aid in vision, they also help regulate how an individual perceives their surrounding environment, or the space they’re in. And space awareness, for an architect, is integral. “I am very picky about it,” she said of space. “There’s a very narrow threshold of what I feel comfortable with. I am constantly analyzing where I am: How do things smell? How do things sound?”
One of her supervisors, and her mentor at HOK, Jeff Ryan, was her studio instructor at Washington University. Ryan said he enjoys working with her, and appreciates her work product. “Megan is a very intelligent and thoughtful designer and a remarkably resilient individual. I have been very impressed with Megan’s ability to find opportunities within the challenges she faces,” he said.
These challenges don’t deter her from daily living, maintaining an active social life, and planning for a career as an architect. Jeff Caruso, her boyfriend, sat beside me as I interviewed her. He recalls fondly the night they met in July 2009.
Jeff said that he didn’t tell his parents right off of Megan’s condition. He was proud to introduce his girlfriend to them, but didn’t feel the need to discuss such a thing immediately. He wasn’t sure what his parents’ reaction would be. “It’s a hard thing to hear about,” he said. “What do you say to something like that?”
He drives Megan to her internship in the mornings, in addition to offering assistance in other ways. “I am happy to help out when I can, wherever I can,” he said. He said her condition is daunting to him, at times. “It’s scary for me, too,” he said. “What’s it going to be like three months, six months from now?” While adding that it might be a trite notion, he tries to live one day at a time with her condition while juggling it with their daily lives and plans. He is enrolled full-time at St. Louis Community College – Forest Park, and plans to attend Nursing school at Washington University.
In 2008, with her mother, Theresa Bettlach Cacciatore, Megan formed the Usher Syndrome Foundation (http://www.ushersyndromefoundation.org ) for fundraising and public awareness. “She has been my rock the entire time,” she said of her mother. This past February the foundation hosted a fundraising ball in downtown St. Louis in Megan’s honor. Sportscaster Joe Buck was in attendance. Another such gala is scheduled for 2011.
This past January she had a dissolvable microchip inserted into her left eye at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. She awaits another similar procedure later this year, to “hopefully hold onto my eyesight until something better comes along,” she said.
She has faith in the future of stem cell research and what it might mean in the progress of curing Usher Syndrome. “I’m very lucky to have Barnes-Jewish Hospital nearby, and to have connections at the Mayo Clinic. I feel I’m getting the best treatment that anyone in my situation could have.”
In the meantime, she’s going to keep moving forward and complete that HOK internship.