Posts Tagged ‘Connecticut Avenue’

The Major General George B. McClellan Memorial

The Major General George B. McClellan Memorial

On this bike ride, I stopped by the Major General George B. McClellan Memorial, which is located on a median at the intersection of Connecticut Avenue, Columbia Road, and California Street (MAP), directly in front of The Washington Hilton in northwest D.C.  The statue is part of a group of statues entitled “The Civil War Monuments in Washington, D.C.” which are spread out through much of the central and northwest areas of the city. They are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

After being named General-in-Chief of the Union Army during the Civil War by President Abraham Lincoln, McClellan drew praise for his military initiatives. However, he also quickly developed a reputation for his arrogance and contempt toward the political leaders in D.C., including toward the President who had named him to the top army post. The general began openly associating with Democratic leaders in Congress and showing his disregard for the Republican administration. In a letter to his wife, McClellan wrote that Lincoln was “nothing more than a well-meaning baboon.”

During McClellan’s brief tenure as General-in-Chief, Lincoln made frequent evening visits to the general’s house to discuss strategy.  The most famous example of McClellan’s cavalier disregard for the President’s authority occurred on a day in 1861 when Lincoln, Secretary of State William Seward, and presidential secretary John Hay stopped by to see the general. McClellan was out, so the trio waited for his return. After an hour, McClellan came in and was told by a porter that the guests were waiting. McClellan headed for his room without a word, and only after Lincoln waited another half-hour was the group informed that McClellan had retired for the evening and had already gone to bed. Hay felt that the president should have been greatly offended, but Lincoln replied that it was “better at this time not to be making points of etiquette and personal dignity.”

Lincoln made no more visits to the general’s home. However, approximately four months later, the President removed McClellan as General-in-Chief of the army. How much the general’s abrasiveness played a part in his removal is open to debate. Many regarded McClellan as a poor battlefield general. Others maintain that he was a highly capable commander, whose reputation suffered unfairly at the hands of pro-Lincoln partisans who needed a scapegoat for the Union’s setbacks. His legacy therefore defies easy categorization. After the war, Ulysses S. Grant was asked to evaluate McClellan as a general. He replied, “McClellan is to me one of the mysteries of the war.” But Robert E. Lee, on being asked who was the ablest general on the Union side during the late war, replied emphatically: “McClellan, by all odds!”

Interestingly, McClellan later ran as the Democrat party’s nominee for the 1864 presidential election against Lincoln. He was soundly trounced in the election, obtaining only 21 electoral votes to Lincoln’s 212 electoral votes. McClellan subsequently held several positions, including governor of New Jersey, before retiring to spend his final years traveling and writing his memoirs.

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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

There is a statue memorializing Henry Wordsworth Longfellow located in a triangular park at the confluence of Connecticut Avenue and 18th and M Streets (MAP), just south of DuPont Circle, in northwest D.C. The life-sized bronze statue by William Couper and Thomas Ball is mounted on a base of Swedish granite, and depicts a seated Longfellow, dressed in his academic robe, resting his chin on his left hand with his arm supported by the armrest of his chair, and holding a book in his right hand.  Originally just an island of grass at the intersection, the small park in which the statue sits was redesigned by the National Park Service in the late 1960’s to include sidewalks, a water fountain, landscaping, and a number of benches and seating areas which make it a popular location for lunch breaks among the downtown office workers.

The statue was dedicated at a ceremony which was held in May of 1909, and was the first in D.C. to honor an American literary figure.  A number of dignitaries were present at the dedication ceremony, as well as descendants of Longfellow.  Hundreds of spectators and members of the public were also in attendance.  Seats for approximately 700 people were set-up on the Connecticut Avenue side of the park, with an overflow crowd that filled the streets.  During the ceremony Attorney General George W. Wickersham, who was standing in for President William Howard Taft, accepted the statue which was presented by Brainard H. Warner, treasurer of the Longfellow National Memorial Association, which donated the statue.  Melvin Fuller, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and then president of the Memorial Association, presided over the unveiling ceremony.

Born in 1807, Longfellow grew up the second of eight children in Portland, Maine, which was then a part of Massachusetts.  He attended private schools, and went on at the age of fifteen to study at Bowdoin College, a college which had been founded by his grandfather and where his father was a trustee. After spending time in Europe, he became a professor at his alma mater, but later moved to Cambridge to become a professor at Harvard College.  Longfellow was married twice, first to a childhood friend named Mary Storer Potter.  Mary had a miscarriage about six months into her pregnancy, and failed to recover, dying after several weeks of illness.  Shortly after Mary’s death Longfellow began courting Frances “Fanny” Appleton.  They married after a seven-year courtship, and had six children together before she died of burns when her clothing accidentally caught fire in their home.  As a result of his attempts to save her, Longfellow burned himself badly enough to be unable to attend her funeral.  His facial injuries from the fire also led him to stop shaving, thereafter wearing the beard which became his trademark.  By the time Fanny died, Longfellow had retired from teaching to focus on his writing.  Devastated by her death, he never fully recovered, and lived out the rest of his life in Cambridge.  Longfellow is buried with both of his wives at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.

An American poet and educator, Longfellow is considered one of the most important figures in American literature.  While still in college, he not only decided on his future literary vocation but already began pursuing his goals by submitting poetry to various newspapers and magazines.  He published nearly forty poems by the time he graduated.  During his career Longfellow was also important as a translator.  Among many projects, he was the first American to translate Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy.  But it is for his writing that he is best known and remembered.  Among his many works, Longfellow was probably most known during his day for the poem “Sail On, O Ship of State.”   Today, however, he best remembered for “Paul Revere’s Ride.”  He became a national literary figure by the 1850s, and a world- famous personality by the time of his death in 1882.  His poetry has been a continuous presence and influence in our language ever since.

The Washington Hilton

The Washington Hilton

The Washington Hilton, sometime referred to by locals as “The Hinkley Hilton,” is located at 1919 Connecticut Avenue (MAP) in Northwest D.C., roughly at the boundaries of the Kalorama, Dupont Circle, and Adams Morgan neighborhoods. The hotel has seen its share of history. It also hosted the first International Conference on Computer Communications which demonstrated new ARPANET technology, the precursor to the Internet. It has also hosted the White House Correspondents Association, the Radio and Television Correspondents Association, and the National Prayer Breakfast. The hotel’s ballroom has also been the venue for a number of concerts, including The Doors and Jimi Hendrix. But The Washington Hilton is most widely remembered for an event that occurred just outside the hotel’s T Street exit. It was there that John Hinckley, Jr. attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan as the culmination of his effort to impress teen actress Jodie Foster.

Just 69 days into his presidency, Reagan exited the hotel through “The President’s Walk,” which had been built specifically as a security measure after the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  As Hinckley waited within the crowd of admirers, Reagan unexpectedly passed right in front of him. Knowing that he would never get a better chance, Hinckley fired six times in just 1.7 seconds, seemingly missing the President with all six shots. The first bullet hit White House Press Secretary James Brady in the head. The second hit District of Columbia police officer Thomas Delahanty in the back of his neck as he turned to protect Reagan. Hinckley now had a clear shot at the President, but the third overshot him and hit the window of a building across the street. As Special-Agent-in-Charge Jerry Parr quickly pushed Reagan into the limousine, the fourth hit Secret Service Agent Timothy McCarthy in the abdomen as he spread his body over Reagan to make himself a target. The fifth hit the bullet-resistant glass of the window on the open side door of the limousine. The sixth and final bullet ricocheted off the armored side of the limousine and hit the president in his left underarm, grazing a rib and lodging in his lung, stopping approximately an inch from his heart. Had Parr hesitated for a moment, the President would likely have been hit in the head.

The President, whose Secret Service codename was “Rawhide,” was rushed in his limousine, codenamed “Stagecoach,” to the emergency room at George Washington University Hospital, where it arrived less than four minutes after leaving the hotel. When his wife Nancy arrived Reagan remarked to her, “Honey, I forgot to duck.” Later, in the operating room, Reagan removed his oxygen mask to joke, “I hope you are all Republicans.” The doctors and nurses laughed, while Dr. Joseph Giordano, who was the head of the medical team and a liberal Democrat, replied, “Today, Mr. President, we are all Republicans.” Reagan survived the surgery with a good prognosis, and went on to serve out the rest of his first term as well as a second term on his way to becoming one of the most popular presidents of the modern era. Reagan died 23 years later at the age of 93 of pneumonia brought on by Alzheimer’s disease at his home in Bel Air, California.

Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity on June 21, 1982. The defense psychiatric reports had found him to be insane while the prosecution reports declared him legally sane. After his trial, he wrote that the shooting was “the greatest love offering in the history of the world”, and did not indicate any regrets. Hinckley was committed at St. Elizabeths Psychiatric Hospital indefinitely. Over the years he has been allowed to leave the hospital intermittently for visits with his family, but Hinckley remains confined at St. Elizabeths to this day.

The two law enforcement officers recovered from their wounds, although Delahanty was ultimately forced to retire from the police force due to his injuries. Since the bullet had ricocheted off Delahanty’s spinal cord after striking his neck, he suffered permanent nerve damage to his left arm. McCarthy finished out his career with the Secret Service where he retired in 1993. He subsequently served as Chief of the Orland Park, Illinois Police Department and in 1997, he unsuccessfully ran for Illinois Secretary of State as a Democrat.  Parr came to believe that God had directed his life to save Reagan, and became a pastor. The attack seriously wounded Brady, who sustained a serious head wound and became permanently disabled. Brady and his wife Sarah became leading advocates of gun control and remain actively committed to actions to reduce the amount of gun violence in the U.S.

Although the hotel was considered the safest in D.C. due to the secure, enclosed passageway called “The President’s Walk”, the unenclosed outer door from which Reagan had left the hotel shortly before being shot, was altered subsequent to the assassination attempt. The open canopy above the door was removed and a brick drive-through enclosure was constructed to allow the president to move directly from the door of his car into the hotel without public access.

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