Category Archives: Washington

July 14, the Feast of Kateri Tekakwitha – the First North American Indian Saint


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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Saint Kateri Tekakwitha
Statue of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington D.C. (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

In the United States, July 14, is the feast day of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha. In Canada, the feast is celebrated on April 17.

Kateri Tekakwitha is the first Native North American saint and the fourth Native American to be venerated in the Roman Catholic Church after Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin – canonized on July 31, 2002, at the Basilica of Guadalupe, Mexico City by Pope John Paul II, and two other Oaxacan Indians. She is known as the “Lily of the Mohawks” and the “Genevieve of New France“. Like St. Francis of Assisi she is also the patroness of the environment and ecology.

Tekakwitha was a Mohawk-Algonquin virgin and laywoman belonging to the Turtle Clan of the Mohawk tribe of the Iroquois nation. She was born in Auriesville, now part of New York in  As a child she lost her parents to a smallpox epidemic. She survived the catastrophe with damaged eyesight and pockmarks on her face. Her paternal uncle, a village chief, a great foe of the Roman Catholic missionaries from France in the area, adopted the orphaned girl.

Shunned by her tribe for her religious conversion to Catholicism, Tekakwitha settled for the last years of her life in the Jesuit mission village of Kahnawake, south of Montreal in New France, now Canada.

She was baptized as Kateri Tekakwitha at the age of 20. The name “Kateri” is derived from the French “Catherine”. She professed the evangelical vow of chastity and corporal mortification of the flesh.

Kateri Tekakwitha  died on April 17, 1680, aged 24, at Caughnawaga, Canada. Her last words were “Jesos Konoronkwa” (“Jesus, I love you”).

It is alleged that after her death, the scars on her face cleared. Various miracles and supernatural effects are assigned to her intercession.

In 1943, Kateri Tekakwitha was declared venerable by the Catholic Church, and was beatified in 1980 by Pope John Paul II. However, the Church needed a further confirmed true miracle to canonize her.

The miracle the Church wanted happened in 2006, when a five-year-old Seattle boy named Jake Finkbonner while playing basketball fell and cut his lip. Jake was in intensive care fighting a deadly flesh-eating bacterium that was cankering the skin on his face. Though the doctors tried various medications and surgeries, the infection on the little boy’s face continued to spread.

A local priest, Fr. Tim Sauer, knowing Jake was half Lummi Indian, asked his parishioners to pray to Kateri Tekakwitha to intercede for his recovery.

After three weeks, the infection stopped spreading and Jake recovered.

“I certainly believe in miracles,” said Dr. Hooper, one of the doctors who treated little Jake, while talking to CBC News, “It’s a different meaning for everyone. I’m just really happy when things work out well.”

Jake’s recovery was the proof that the Vatican needed.

On October 21, 2012, Kateri Tekakwitha was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI at Saint Peter’s Basilica.

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The Story of Kateri Tekakwitha – the First North American Indian Saint: Part 4


 

Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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Statue of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington D.C. (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)
Statue of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington D.C. (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

Last moments of Kateri Tekakwitha

At the end of 1679, Kateri fell ill. Her afflictions increased day by day. Whenever she was able to leave her cabin, she would go to the chapel and rest on the benches and pray, and when she could support herself she would kneel before the altar.

During the Holy Week of 1680, Tekakwitha’s health was failing overcome by migraine headaches, fever and severe stomach pains accompanied with frequent vomiting.

On Tuesday, April 16, 1680, her friends knew she had, but a few hours left to live. They and the villagers gathered at the longhouse. Kateri was too weak to be moved to the chapel. Father Chauchetière and Cholenec hurried to the longhouse. Father Cholenec gave her Holy Viaticum. Until then, carrying the Blessed Sacrament to a longhouse was unheard of in the village for it was the custom for the sick to be carried on a board of bark to the chapel.

In the morning of Holy Wednesday, April 17, 1680, Kateri’s illness became worse and Father Cholenec administered the last rites – Extreme Unction.

Kateri Tekakwitha died around 3 pm in the arms of her friend Marie-Therèse. Father Chauchetière reports her final words were: “Jesos Konoronkwa” (“Jesus, I love you”).

Death of Kateri Tekakwitha (Source: Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha by Anne E. Neuberger)
Death of Kateri Tekakwitha (Source: Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha by Anne E. Neuberger)

After her death, the people noticed a physical change in her. Father Cholenec later wrote:

Then she had a slight spasm at the right side of her mouth. She died as if she was falling into a light sleep and we were for along time not certain of her death. Sometime before 4 o’clock, her face had suddenly changed and became in a moment so beautiful, smiling and white. Her face had an appearance of a rosy colour, which she never had and her features were not the same. I saw this immediately, because I was praying beside her and cried out for my astonishment. Her face was so scarred with smallpox from the age of four years old, and with her infirmities and mortification contributed to ruin her even more. And before her death she had taken a darken complexion. Her face appeared more beautiful than when she had been living. I will admit openly of the first thought, which came to me that Kateri might have entered into Heaven at this moment. After reflecting back in her chaste body a small ray of glory she had gone to possess.

The day Kateri died, the villagers passed it with an extraordinary devotion. Kateri’s simple compatriots kissed her hands and passed the evening and stayed the rest of the night near her to admire her face that exuded devotion even though her soul was separated from her.

They placed her body in the coffin with a cross in her hands. They did not cover her face until she was buried because of the pleasure people had looking at her.

Appearances after death

In the weeks after her death Kateri Tekakwitha has been said to have appeared before three persons: Kanahstatsi Tekonwatsenhonko (her mentor), Wari Teres Tegaiaguenta (her spiritual companion) and Father Claude Chauchetière.

Kanahstatsi said that, while crying over the death of her daughter, she looked up to see Catherine “kneeling at the foot” of her mattress, “holding a wooden cross that shone like the sun“.

Wari Teres reported that she was awakened at night by a knocking on her wall, and a voice asked if she were awake, adding, “I’ve come to say goodbye; I’m on my way to heaven.” Immediately, she went outside, but saw no one; then, she heard a voice murmur, “Adieu, Adieu, go tell the father that I’m going to heaven.

Chauchetière reported seeing Catherine at her grave; he said she appeared in “baroque splendour; for two hours he gazed upon her” and “her face lifted toward heaven as if in ecstasy.

Tomb of Kateri Tekakwitha (Source: kateritekakwitha.org)
Tomb of Kateri Tekakwitha (Source: kateritekakwitha.org)

Chauchetière had a chapel built near the site of her grave.

The settlers of New France spoke in whispers that a saint had been living among them. The Jesuits ground her bones to dust and placed it in the newly rebuilt mission chapel to symbolize her presence on earth. By 1684, pilgrims started coming to Kahnawake to honour Kateri Tekakwitha. Miracles were attributed to her intercession.

Kateri’s physical remains such as the crucifix she wore, the utensils she ate with, and even dirt from her grave, were all known to affect cures and were used as holy relics for healing.

Father Chauchetière was convinced that he had been in the presence of holiness. He told settlers in La Prairie to pray to Catherine for intercession with illnesses. He wrote the first of his many biographies of Kateri Tekakwitha in 1695. He was followed in 1696 by the equally prolific Father Pierre Cholenec. Through their writing, the legend of Kateri Tekakwitha, the Miracle Worker of the New World, reached across the sea to France and from there to the Vatican. Even the Jesuits in China and their converts, came to know about Kateri’s fame through Father Chauchetière’s writings. At least 300 books have been published in more than 20 languages on the life of Kateri Tekakwitha based on the accounts written by the two Jesuit priests who knew her.

The Jesuits ground her bones to dust and placed it in the newly rebuilt mission chapel to symbolize her presence on earth. Her physical remains were sometimes used as holy relics for healing.

Because of her singular life of chastity, she is often associated with the lily flower, a traditional symbol of purity among Roman Catholics and one often used for the Virgin Mary. Religious images of Tekakwitha are often decorated with a lily and the cross, with feathers or turtle as cultural accessories. Colloquial terms for Tekakwitha are The Lily of the Mohawks, the Mohawk Maiden, the Pure and Tender Lily, the Flower among True Men, the Lily of Purity and The New Star of the New World.

Kateri Tekakwitha’s tribal neighbors praised Kateri Tekakwitha as “the fairest flower that ever bloomed among the red men.” Now, reverence of Kateri Tekakwitha transcends tribal differences. Indigenous North American Catholics have taken her to heart and identify themselves with her by portraying her in their art, and in their own traditional clothing.

Many consider her virtues as an ecumenical bridge between Mohawk and European cultures.

The Canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha

After her death, Tekakwitha became an honorary yet unofficial patroness of Montreal, Canada, and Indigenous peoples of the Americas.

The process for Tekakwitha’s canonization was initiated by the United States Catholics at the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884. It was followed by the Canadian Catholics.

On January 3, 1943, Pope Pius XII declared her venerable.

She was beatified as Catherine Tekakwitha on June 22, 1980, by Pope John Paul II.

On December 19, 2011, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints certified a second miracle through her intercession, signed by Pope Benedict XVI, that paved the way for her canonization.

On February 18, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI decreed the canonization of that Tekakwitha. Speaking in Latin, he used the form “Catharina Tekakwitha” while the official booklet of the ceremony referred to her in English and Italian, as “Kateri Tekakwitha”.

Kateri Tekakwitha was canonized on October 21, 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI. In the official canonization rite booklet, “Catherine” is used in the English and French biographies and “Kateri” in the translation of the rite itself.

Kateri Tekakwitha is the first Native North American saint and the fourth Native American to be venerated in the Roman Catholic Church after Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin – canonized on July 31, 2002, at the Basilica of Guadalupe, Mexico City by Pope John Paul II, and two other Oaxacan Indians.

 

← Previous – The Story of Kateri Tekakwitha: Part 3

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Dr. Bill Cosby’s “Pound Cake” / “We can’t blame white people” Speech


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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Dr. William Henry "Bill" Cosby Jr. (born July 12, 1937)
Dr. William Henry “Bill” Cosby Jr. (born July 12, 1937)

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is an African American civil rights organization in the United States, formed in 1909 with the mission:

“To ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination.”

On May 17, 2004, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., commemorated the 50th Anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision on Brown vs Topeka Board of Education that struck down school segregation. At this gala event, Dr. Bill Cosby, the American comedian, actor, author, television producer, educator, musician and activist gave a speech on the theme of blacks in America taking responsibility for their own lives.

In this speech, Bill Cosby said that African Americans should no longer blame discrimination, segregation, governmental institutions, or others for higher unemployment rates among Blacks or the racial achievement gap; rather, they have their own culture of poverty to blame.

While Cosby’s speech was much appreciated, it also evoked severe criticism from various quarters.

Michael Eric Dyson - American academic, author, and radio host.
Michael Eric Dyson – American academic, author, and radio host.

In his book “Is Bill Cosby Right?: Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?“, published in 2005, sociologist Michael Eric Dyson criticized Bill Cosby. Dyson said that Cosby, who built up years of mainstream credibility by ignoring race in his comedy routines and in his television programs, had chosen to address the issues of race by chastising poor Blacks instead of defending them.

On May 19, 2004, a write up in the “Reliable Source” column of the Washington Post, that was reprinted in several news media in the United States, overlooked a significant part of the information from Cosby’s statements. The article in the Post failed to point out that Cosby’s statements were explicitly in the context of focusing on the epidemic of nearly 50% of African American males in the inner city, dropping out of school. The Post article incorrectly ascertained Cosby’s statements as an overall assessment of the lower economic classes of the Blacks.

Bill Cosby explained that his comments were intended to be a call to action, to “turn the mirror around on ourselves.”

“I think that it is time for concerned African Americans to march, galvanize and raise the awareness about this epidemic to transform our helplessness, frustration and righteous indignation into a sense of shared responsibility and action.”

“I travel the country and see these patterns in every community-stories of 12-year-old children killed in the crossfire between knuckleheads selling drugs, the 14-year-olds with a sealed envelope as their first step into the criminal justice system, the young males who become fathers and not held responsible, the young women having children and moving back in with their mothers and grandmothers, and the young people who choose not to learn standard English.”

Since 2004, this famous “Pound Cake Speech” also known as “We can’t blame white people” speech has frequently surfaced on the internet and many times important pieces of information from the speech had been left out. There is a version on Snopes.com, and today I came across another version on Facebook.

Here is a version (edited) of the “Pound Cake Speech” I found on YouTube:

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I searched the net for the original version and found the following transcript provided by Bill Cosby’s public relations representatives. Due to audio to text software resolution issues there may be some minor typographical inaccuracies.

Ladies and gentlemen, I really have to ask you to seriously consider what you’ve heard, and now this is the end of the evening so to speak. I heard a prize fight manager say to his fellow who was losing badly, “David, listen to me. It’s not what’s he’s doing to you. It’s what you’re not doing.”

Ladies and gentlemen, these people set — they opened the doors, they gave us the right, and today, ladies and gentlemen, in our cities and public schools we have 50% drop out. In our own neighborhood, we have men in prison. No longer is a person embarrassed because they’re pregnant without a husband. No longer is a boy considered an embarrassment if he tries to run away from being the father of the unmarried child.

Ladies and gentlemen, the lower economic and lower middle economic people are not holding their end in this deal. In the neighborhood that most of us grew up in, parenting is not going on. In the old days, you couldn’t hooky school because every drawn shade was an eye. And before your mother got off the bus and to the house, she knew exactly where you had gone, who had gone into the house, and where you got on whatever you had one and where you got it from. Parents don’t know that today.

I’m talking about these people who cry when their son is standing there in an orange suit. Where were you when he was two? Where were you when he was twelve? Where were you when he was eighteen, and how come you don’t know he had a pistol? And where is his father, and why don’t you know where he is? And why doesn’t the father show up to talk to this boy?

The church is only open on Sunday. And you can’t keep asking Jesus to ask doing things for you. You can’t keep asking that God will find a way. God is tired of you. God was there when they won all those cases — fifty in a row. That’s where God was because these people were doing something. And God said, “I’m going to find a way.” I wasn’t there when God said it — I’m making this up. But it sounds like what God would do.

We cannot blame white people. White people — White people don’t live over there. They close up the shop early. The Korean ones still don’t know us as well — they stay open 24 hours.

I’m looking and I see a man named Kenneth Clark, he and his wife Mamie. Kenneth’s still alive. I have to apologize to him for these people because Kenneth said it straight. He said you have to strengthen yourselves, and we’ve got to have that black doll. And everybody said it. Julian Bond said it. Dick Gregory said it. All these lawyers said it. And you wouldn’t know that anybody had done a damned thing. 

Fifty percent drop out rate, I’m telling you, and people in jail, and women having children by five, six different men. Under what excuse? I want somebody to love me. And as soon as you have it, you forget to parent. Grandmother, mother, and great grandmother in the same room, raising children, and the child knows nothing about love or respect of any one of the three of them. All this child knows is “gimme, gimme, gimme.” These people want to buy the friendship of a child, and the child couldn’t care less. Those of us sitting out here who have gone on to some college or whatever we’ve done, we still fear our parents. And these people are not parenting. They’re buying things for the kid — $500 sneakers — for what? They won’t buy or spend $250 on Hooked on Phonics. 

Kenneth Clark, somewhere in his home in upstate New York — just looking ahead. Thank God he doesn’t know what’s going on. Thank God. But these people — the ones up here in the balcony fought so hard. Looking at the incarcerated, these are not political criminals. These are people going around stealing Coca Cola. People getting shot in the back of the head over a piece of pound cake! Then we all run out and are outraged: “The cops shouldn’t have shot him.” What the hell was he doing with the pound cake in his hand? I wanted a piece of pound cake just as bad as anybody else. And I looked at it and I had no money. And something called parenting said if you get caught with it you’re going to embarrass your mother.” Not, “You’re going to get your butt kicked.” No. “You’re going to embarrass your mother.” “You’re going to embarrass your family.” If you knock that girl up, you’re going to have to run away because it’s going to be too embarrassing for your family. In the old days, a girl getting pregnant had to go down South, and then her mother would go down to get her. But the mother had the baby. I said the mother had the baby. The girl didn’t have a baby. The mother had the baby in two weeks. We are not parenting.

Ladies and gentlemen, listen to these people. They are showing you what’s wrong. People putting their clothes on backwards. Isn’t that a sign of something going on wrong? Are you not paying attention? People with their hat on backwards, pants down around the crack. Isn’t that a sign of something or are you waiting for Jesus to pull his pants up? Isn’t it a sign of something when she’s got her dress all the way up to the crack — and got all kinds of needles and things going through her body. What part of Africa did this come from? We are not Africans. Those people are not Africans; they don’t know a damned thing about Africa. With names like Shaniqua, Shaligua, Mohammed and all that crap and all of them are in jail. (When we give these kinds names to our children, we give them the strength and inspiration in the meaning of those names. What’s the point of giving them strong names if there is not parenting and values backing it up).

Brown versus the Board of Education is no longer the white person’s problem. We’ve got to take the neighborhood back. We’ve got to go in there. Just forget telling your child to go to the Peace Corps. It’s right around the corner. It’s standing on the corner. It can’t speak English. It doesn’t want to speak English. I can’t even talk the way these people talk: “Why you ain’t where you is go ra?” I don’t know who these people are. And I blamed the kid until I heard the mother talk. Then I heard the father talk. This is all in the house. You used to talk a certain way on the corner and you got into the house and switched to English. Everybody knows it’s important to speak English except these knuckleheads. You can’t land a plane with, “Why you ain’t…” You can’t be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth. There is no Bible that has that kind of language. Where did these people get the idea that they’re moving ahead on this. Well, they know they’re not; they’re just hanging out in the same place, five or six generations sitting in the projects when you’re just supposed to stay there long enough to get a job and move out.

Now, look, I’m telling you. It’s not what they’re doing to us. It’s what we’re not doing. 50 percent drop out. Look, we’re raising our own ingrown immigrants. These people are fighting hard to be ignorant. There’s no English being spoken, and they’re walking and they’re angry. Oh God, they’re angry and they have pistols and they shoot and they do stupid things. And after they kill somebody, they don’t have a plan. Just murder somebody. Boom. Over what? A pizza? And then run to the poor cousin’s house.

They sit there and the cousin says, “What are you doing here?”

“I just killed somebody, man.”

“What?”

“I just killed somebody; I’ve got to stay here.”

“No, you don’t.”

“Well, give me some money, I’ll go….”

 “Where are you going?”

“North Carolina.”

Everybody wanted to go to North Carolina. But the police know where you’re going because your cousin has a record.

Five or six different children — same woman, eight, ten different husbands or whatever. Pretty soon you’re going to have to have DNA cards so you can tell who you’re making love to. You don’t who this is. It might be your grandmother. I’m telling you, they’re young enough. Hey, you have a baby when you’re twelve. Your baby turns thirteen and has a baby, how old are you? Huh? Grandmother. By the time you’re twelve, you could have sex with your grandmother, you keep those numbers coming. I’m just predicting.

I’m saying Brown versus the Board of Education. We’ve got to hit the streets, ladies and gentlemen. I’m winding up, now — no more applause. I’m saying, look at the Black Muslims. There are Black Muslims standing on the street corners and they say so forth and so on, and we’re laughing at them because they have bean pies and all that, but you don’t read, “Black Muslim gunned down while chastising drug dealer.” You don’t read that. They don’t shoot down Black Muslims. You understand me. Muslims tell you to get out of the neighborhood. When you want to clear your neighborhood out, first thing you do is go get the Black Muslims, bean pies and all. And your neighborhood is then clear. The police can’t do it.

I’m telling you Christians, what’s wrong with you? Why can’t you hit the streets? Why can’t you clean it out yourselves? It’s our time now, ladies and gentlemen. It is our time. And I’ve got good news for you. It’s not about money. It’s about you doing something ordinarily that we do — get in somebody else’s business. It’s time for you to not accept the language that these people are speaking, which will take them nowhere. What the hell good is Brown v. Board of Education if nobody wants it? 

What is it with young girls getting after some girl who wants to still remain a virgin. Who are these sick black people and where did they come from and why haven’t they been parented to shut up? To go up to girls and try to get a club where “you are nobody….” This is a sickness, ladies and gentlemen, and we are not paying attention to these children. These are children. They don’t know anything. They don’t have anything. They’re homeless people. All they know how to do is beg. And you give it to them, trying to win their friendship. And what are they good for? And then they stand there in an orange suit and you drop to your knees: “He didn’t do anything. He didn’t do anything.” Yes, he did do it. And you need to have an orange suit on, too.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank you for the award — and giving me an opportunity to speak because, I mean, this is the future, and all of these people who lined up and done — they’ve got to be wondering what the hell happened. Brown V. Board of Education — these people who marched and were hit in the face with rocks and punched in the face to get an education and we got these knuckleheads walking around who don’t want to learn English. I know that you all know it. I just want to get you as angry that you ought to be. When you walk around the neighborhood and you see this stuff, that stuff’s not funny. These people are not funny anymore. And that‘s not my brother. And that’s not my sister. They’re faking and they’re dragging me way down because the state, the city, and all these people have to pick up the tab on them because they don’t want to accept that they have to study to get an education.

We have to begin to build in the neighborhood, have restaurants, have cleaners, have pharmacies, have real estate, have medical buildings instead of trying to rob them all. And so, ladies and gentlemen, please, Dorothy Height, where ever she’s sitting, she didn’t do all that stuff so that she could hear somebody say “I can’t stand algebra, I can’t stand…” and “what you is.” It’s horrible.

Basketball players — multimillionaires can’t write a paragraph. Football players, multimillionaires, can’t read. Yes. Multimillionaires. Well, Brown v. Board of Education, where are we today? It’s there. They paved the way. What did we do with it? The White Man, he’s laughing — got to be laughing. 50 percent drop out — rest of them in prison.

You got to tell me that if there was parenting — help me — if there was parenting, he wouldn’t have picked up the Coca Cola bottle and walked out with it to get shot in the back of the head. He wouldn’t have. Not if he loved his parents. And not if they were parenting! Not if the father would come home. Not if the boy hadn’t dropped the sperm cell inside of the girl and the girl had said, “No, you have to come back here and be the father of this child.” Not ..“I don’t have to.”

Therefore, you have the pile up of these sweet beautiful things born by nature — raised by no one. Give them presents. You’re raising pimps. That’s what a pimp is. A pimp will act nasty to you so you have to go out and get them something. And then you bring it back and maybe he or she hugs you. And that’s why pimp is so famous. They’ve got a drink called the “Pimp-something.” You all wonder what that’s about, don’t you? Well, you’re probably going to let Jesus figure it out for you. Well, I’ve got something to tell you about Jesus. When you go to the church, look at the stained glass things of Jesus. Look at them. Is Jesus smiling? Not in one picture. So, tell your friends. Let’s try to do something. Let’s try to make Jesus smile. Let’s start parenting. Thank you, thank you.

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A Drive through the Fort McHenry Tunnel, Baltimore, Maryland.


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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On our way from Ellicott City, MD to North Brunswick, NJ we whisked down through the Fort McHenry Tunnel, a 7,200-foot-long, four-tube, 8-lane, bi-directional tunnel that carries Interstate I-95 traffic underneath the Baltimore Harbor, in Maryland. The tunnel crosses the Patapsco River, just south of Fort McHenry and connects the Locust Point and Canton areas of Baltimore City. The tunnel named for the nearby Fort McHenry, inspired Francis Scott Key to write anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner.

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The Fort McHenry Tunnel, the largest underwater highway tunnel, as well as the widest vehicular tunnel ever built by the immersed-tube method, opened on Saturday, November 23, 1985.

Opening day for the Baltimore Harbor 7,200-foot-long 8-lane Fort McHenry Tunnel, Saturday November 23, 1985. (Photo: roadstothefuture.com)
Opening day for the Baltimore Harbor 7,200-foot-long 8-lane Fort McHenry Tunnel, Saturday November 23, 1985. (Photo: roadstothefuture.com)

The following is an excerpt from “I-95 Drivers Get Remedy for Harbor Headache – Baltimore’s Fort McHenry Tunnel’s Debut Today is Expected to Ease Bottlenecks“, that appeared in The Washington Post, November 23, 1985.

“The new Baltimore is a nice place to live, but you would not want to visit – not if you are inching through the grimy Harbor Tunnel, that is. For interstate travelers, the dread begins miles away as they steel themselves for the maddening Harbor Tunnel bottleneck that often forms miles outside of Baltimore. But all that’s about to change. Travelers on I-95 who scarcely glimpse Baltimore’s restored town houses, its sparkling Inner Harbor or the growing downtown skyline will soon see a new side of the city as they whisk through its gleaming new Fort McHenry Tunnel. The new eight-lane tunnel – a massive $750 million engineering project 5 years in the making – will open today after a 3:00 PM ribbon cutting, lengthy ceremonies and special motorcades, just in time for the Thanksgiving travel crush. Dozens of state and federal dignitaries are expected to be on hand for the opening ceremonies today to claim credit for the largest underwater road project in the history of the Interstate highway system, one that came in under budget and almost on time.” 

The Fort McHenry Tunnel, is a vital link in I-95, the East Coast’s most important interstate route, Interstate 95, between Maine and Florida. At the time of its opening it was the most expensive underwater tunnel project in the United States, but that figure has since been surpassed by the Big Dig project in Boston. Soon after, the nearby Baltimore Harbor Tunnel, a pair of two-lane road tunnels, southeast of downtown Baltimore, Maryland, and Interstate 895, opened to traffic in 1957, were closed for extensive repairs.

The Fort McHenry Tunnel has 8 lanes in 4 tubes and is 1.5 miles (2.4 km) with operating speed of variable up to 55 miles per hour (89 km/h). Each tunnel is 26 feet (7.9 m) wide with a tunnel clearance of 12.5 feet (3.8 m). The lowest elevation is at 107 feet (33 m) below harbor water surface.

Fort McHenry Tunnel – Project Plans

Plan View of Fort McHenry Tunnel Area
Plan View of Fort McHenry Tunnel Area
Profile View of Fort McHenry Tunnel
Profile View of Fort McHenry Tunnel
Typical Section View of Fort McHenry Tunnel
Typical Section View of Fort McHenry Tunnel
Here's what the east approach looked like when it was under construction in July 1983
Here’s what the east approach looked like when it was under construction in July 1983. (Photo: roadstothefuture.com)
One of the eastbound tubes under construction, March 1984, near the mid-point under the harbor, about 100 feet below the surface of the water. (Photo: roadstothefuture.com)
One of the eastbound tubes under construction, March 1984, near the mid-point under the harbor, about 100 feet below the surface of the water. (Photo: roadstothefuture.com)

Howard P. Foley Co. of Baltimore, was awarded the $47 million contract for mechanical and electrical equipment. It involved the installation of a 48 9-foot-diameter ventilation fans to move up to 6.7 million cubic feet of fresh air per minute into the tunnel and to exhaust fume-laden air out of the tunnel.  24 installed in the west ventilation building and 24 in the east ventilation building. In each ventilation building, 12 of the fans are for supply and 12 are for exhaust. Each ventilation building is equivalent to a small power substation for converting the voltage of the power coming into the tunnel complex.

Since the entire tunnel has continuous signal, lighting and surveillance systems, the tunnel complex has a very large system of electrical systems, with many hundreds of miles of wiring.

Firefighting equipment is stationed throughout the tunnel, with water mains serving the hydrants. The tunnel has 28 pumps with a total capacity of 44,000 gallons per minute.

The first 300 yards of each inbound portal simulates daylight with high intensity lighting and white pavement. This arrangement eliminates the “dark hole” effect that were on older tunnels and provides enough transition for the eyes of motorists to adjust from daylight to the lighting level inside the tunnel.

E-ZPass Tollgate
A part of the E-ZPass Tollgate (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

The I-95 construction through the City of Baltimore received 90% federal-aid funding from the U.S. Highway Trust Fund, for design, right-of-way and construction, with the remaining 10% coming from state funds.

Even in late-1970s, the state’s 10% share of the projected cost of the Fort McHenry Tunnel project was high. So, the state of Maryland and the City of Baltimore requested the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) fund the whole 100% of the project’s cost.

The state of Maryland and the City of Baltimore requested the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to fund the whole 100% of the project’s cost. They also wanted tolls to be collected via a toll plaza built immediately east of the tunnel, at a cost of $27 million, to pay off the 10% share in installments.

The Tollgates in the 24 lanes at Fort McHenry Tunnel Toll Plaza collect a $2 toll from both directions of I-95. All lanes are E-ZPass compatible and allow commuters the ease of paying their tolls electronically. Some lanes are set aside for E-ZPass users only. This plaza is administered by the Maryland Transportation Authority.

Vital Facts about Fort McHenry Tunnel
Length 1.5 miles (2.4 km)
Highway class Freeway, built to Interstate highway standards
Highway route Interstate I-95
Water body crossed Baltimore Harbor and shipping channel
Total number of lanes 8 lanes
Number of tubes 4
Number of lanes per tube 2 lanes
Roadway width per tube 26 feet (7.9 m) from curb to curb
Roadway vertical clearance 16 feet
Speed limit Variable up to 55 mph
Toll facilities Electronic tolling plus cash lanes, toll plaza in Canton
Toll $2 for 2-axle vehicle, commuter discounts available
Pavement type Asphalt (bituminous concrete)
Administrative agency for design, right-of-way and construction Interstate Division for Baltimore City (IDBC)
Owner since opening Maryland Transportation Authority (MdTA)
Design Prime Consultant Sverdrup & Parcel and Parsons, Quade, Brinckerhoff & Douglas (joint venture)
Initial estimate of cost total for design, right-of-way and construction $825 million
Contracting method Agency public bid contracting, 11 construction contracts
Construction Began May 7, 1980
Trench Tunnel Prime Contractor Kiewit/Raymond/Tidewater (K-R-T)
West Approach Prime Contractor Lane Construction Corporation
East Approach Prime Contractor S. J. Groves & Sons Co.
Mechanical and Electrical Prime Contractor Howard P. Foley Co.
Facility target date for completion Early 1985
Final cost total for design, right-of-way and construction $750 million
Funding method 100% Interstate highway federal-aid, with 10% to be repaid by state from toll revenue
Facility opened to traffic November 23, 1985
Traffic Volumes as of December 2005 Average about 118,000 vehicles per day, 9% large trucks

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