Posts Tagged ‘President William McKinley’

Robert Todd Lincoln’s Gravesite

On this day in 1926, six days before his eighty-third birthday, Robert Todd Lincoln died in his sleep at Hildene, his Vermont home.  He was the son of President Abraham Lincoln.  And his grandson, “Bud” Beckwith, who died in 1985, is the last person known to be of direct Lincoln lineage.  In observance of the anniversary of his passing, on today’s lunchtime bike ride I went to Arlington National Cemetery to visit the sarcophagus, where he is buried with his wife Mary and their son Jack.

Robert Todd Lincoln was Abraham Lincoln’s oldest son and the only Lincoln child to survive into adulthood. While he didn’t make quite the mark on history that his father did, he did have a pretty interesting life.  The following are some of the most interesting and unusual facts about him.

Lincoln was a witness to the assassinations of three presidents, including his father.  The younger Lincoln was there at The Petersen House, where his father was taken after being shot across the street at Ford’s Theater by John Wilkes Booth.  Years later, while serving as Secretary of War to President James Garfield, he was with the president at the Sixth Street Train Station in D.C. when Charles Guiteau shot him.  Garfield died two months later.  Twenty years after that, Lincoln was a guest of President William McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, when the President was shot by Leon Czolgosz. McKinley died just over a week later.  After that I imagine that future presidents were quietly glad that these events caused Lincoln to believe he was bad luck, because thereafter he refused to attend state events or accept Presidential invitations.

Lincoln’s life was once saved by Edwin Booth, a famous actor and brother of John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of his father. The incident took place on a train platform in Jersey City, New Jersey.  On a crowded platform, Lincoln fell off into the space between the tracks and the platform.  But Booth pulled him by his collar to safety.  The exact date of when this happened is uncertain, but it is believed to have taken place before John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of President Lincoln.

After having her involuntarily committed to a mental hospital, Lincoln had a strained relationship with his mother.  Mary Todd Lincoln is fairly widely renowned today for being mentally ill, but it wasn’t quite such an open secret when she was still alive. Lincoln, however, realized that his mother needed psychiatric help, so he had her committed following a hearing that declared her insane.  She was eventually able to gain her release.  However, by that point she felt as though she had been publicly humiliated, and never patched up her relationship with Lincoln before her death.

Lincoln was the last surviving member of the cabinets of Presidents Garfield and Arthur.  And he was part of President Grant’s junior staff at Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse to end the Civil War, and was the last surviving witness to that event.

Lincoln was also a graduate of Harvard University, on the personal staffs of three Presidents beginning with Ulysses S. Grant, a successful and eventually wealthy lawyer, peripherally involved in politics, successor to George Pullman as company president and later chairman of the board of the Pullman Palace Car Company, a dedicated amateur astronomer and golfer, and a participant in the dedication ceremonies for The Lincoln Memorial for his father.

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The Samuel Hahnemann Monument

Located on the east side of Scott Circle, near the cross section of Massachusetts and Rhode Island Avenues (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s DuPont Circle neighborhood, is a memorial to a German physician and the founder of the homeopathic school of medicine. Known as the Samuel Hahnemann Monument, or simply Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, it was the destination for this lunchtime bike ride.

Christian Friedrich Samuel Hahnemann was born in Meissen, Saxony, near Dresden, Germany, on April 10, 1755. He studied medicine for two years at Leipzig but later, citing Leipzig’s lack of clinical facilities, he moved to Vienna to continue his studies.  He would go on to graduate with honors from the University of Erlangen in August of 1779.  He then settled down in Mansfield, Saxony, where he became a village doctor, got married, and raised a family that would eventually include eleven children.

Within approximately five years of starting his practice, Hahnemann became dissatisfied with the state of medicine at that time. Complaining that the medicine he had been taught sometimes did the patient more harm than good, he actually quit practicing medicine. Having become proficient as a young man in a number of languages, including English, French, Italian, Greek and Latin, he began working as a translator and teacher of languages. But he continued to be concerned about the medical practices of his day, especially practices such as bloodletting, leeching, and purging.  And he vowed to investigate the causes of what he considered to be medicine’s “errors.”

It was during this time, while he was working as a translator, that he was tasked with translating William Cullen’s “A Treatise on the Materia Medica.” While Hahnemann was contemplating information in the book he was translating, he began experimenting on himself. And through this experimentation he came up with the principle of “Similia Similibus Curentur” or “like cures like,” meaning a substance that causes the symptoms of a disease in healthy people would cure similar symptoms in sick people. And it was this principle that became the basis for an alternative approach to medicine which he gave the name homeopathy.

Following years of fundraising efforts by the American Institute of Homeopathy, this monument to the founder of homeopathy was dedicated in 1900. The monument was significant at the time because Hahnemann was the first foreigner not associated with the American Revolution to be honored with a statue in D.C. Among the thousands of attendees at the dedication ceremony were prominent citizens such as President William McKinley, Attorney General John W. Griggs, and Army General John Moulder Wilson. The Classical Revival monument consists of an exedra designed by architect Julius Harder, and a life-sized statue by American sculptor Charles Henry Niehaus, whose works include The John Paul Jones Memorial and several statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol Building.
The sculpture sits beneath a red, yellow and green mosaic dome, and the monument contains four relief panels, which depict Hahnemann’s life as a student, chemist, teacher and physician.

Because homeopathic remedies were actually less dangerous than those of nineteenth-century medical orthodoxy, many medical practitioners began using them.  At the turn of the twentieth century, there were approximately 14,000 practitioners and 22 schools dedicated to homeopathy in this country alone. However, although homeopathy continues to exist today, it is nowhere near as popular or accepted as it once was.  As medical science advanced, and large-scale studies found homeopathy to be no more effective than a placebo, homeopathy declined sharply in this country.  The number of practitioners has decreased dramatically.  And schools either closed or converted to modern methods, with the last pure homeopathic school in this country closing in the 1920’s.

But the monument to the pseudo-science’s founder remains.  In fact, it recently underwent an extensive restoration process, which was completed in 2011.  Today, the Samuel Hahnemann Monument is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it and the surrounding property are owned and maintained by the National Park Service.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

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The Embassy of Cuba

On December 17th of last year, President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced the beginning of a process of normalizing relations between Cuba and the U.S. Then on April 11th of this year, Presidents Obama and President Castro shook hands at the Summit of the Americas in Panama, marking the first meeting between a U.S. and Cuban head of state since the two countries severed their ties in 1961. And on July 1st, President Obama announced the formal restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries. So in recognition of this renewed relationship, often referred to as “The Cuban Thaw”, I decided on this lunchtime bike ride to ride to the diplomatic mission of Cuba to the United States – the newly reopened Cuban Embassy.

The Republic of Cuba actually had a diplomatic outpost in D.C. even before the country existed as an independent nation. In the 1890s, as Cubans mounted a war for independence from Spain, Gonzalo de Quesada established a legation at the fashionable Raleigh Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. After some rebel successes in this war for Cuba’s independence, U.S. President William McKinley in 1897 offered to buy Cuba for $300 million. It was the rejection of that offer, and an explosion in Havana harbor that sank the American battleship USS Maine, that led to the Spanish–American War. In Cuba the war became known as “the U.S. intervention in Cuba’s War of Independence”. On December 10, 1898, Spain and the United States signed the Treaty of Paris and, in accordance with the treaty, Spain renounced all rights to Cuba. The treaty put an end to the Spanish Empire in the Americas, and setting the stage for the birth of the independent Republic of Cuba.

Two decades later, in 1917, Cuba constructed an embassy in the United States, located just two miles north of the White House at 2630 16th Street (MAP) in the northwest D.C.’s Meridian Hill neighborhood. At that time Meridian Hill was home to many of the city’s finest embassies. Close by are the former Italian, Mexican, and Spanish embassies as well as the current embassies of Poland and Lithuania. The Cuban Embassy served in that capacity for the next 43 years, until newly-elected President John F. Kennedy severed diplomatic relations with Cuba following the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and that country’s subsequent decision to closely ally itself with the Soviet Union.

Later, beginning in the 1970s, the embassy building housed the Cuban Interests Section in the United States. The Cuban Interests Section and its counterpart, the United States Interests Section in Havana, were sections of the respective embassies of Switzerland, which acted as protecting power. However, they operated as embassies independently of the Swiss in virtually all but protocol respects.

The United States will be opening an embassy in Havana on Friday at a similar ceremony to be presided over by Secretary of State John Kerry.  I won’t be riding my bike there to see it, though, at least any time soon.

A number of differences and disputes between our two countries remain. These include Cuba’s request that the U.S. return its Naval base in Guantanamo Bay and lift the economic embargo, which Congress has shown little inclination to do anytime soon, as well as the U.S.’s concerns in regard to human rights abuses by the island nation. Whether the reopening of the embassies lead to resolution of these matters remains to be seen, but perhaps it may be a first step in that direction.

Church of the Epiphany

Church of the Epiphany

Dating back to January of 1842 when an organizational meeting was held, and when the first service was conducted later that same month, the Church of the Epiphany has been steeped in history.  Construction of the church’s Gothic Revival building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, began with the laying of the cornerstone the follow year, and was completed in 1844, the same year parish status was achieved.  One of the only remaining pre-Civil War churches in the city, people have been worshipping and praying there every day for over a century and a half.  And the building has stayed much the same over those years, although the surrounding downtown neighborhood has developed considerably from the quiet, tree shaded, and residential neighborhood it was when the church began.  Today, the church’s slim shape and stone façade stand out amongst the towering, modern downtown office buildings which surround it.

Throughout its history, prominent people have always attended and been a part of the Church of the Epiphany.  Before the Civil War, a number of prominent politicians, including future Confederate President Jefferson Davis, were members of the congregation.  After the war broke out, President Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edward Stanton began attending, along with Union service members.   And in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln attended a funeral for Union Army General Frederick Lander at Epiphany.  But the Church of the Epiphany has always had ties to the common man as well.  Between July and December of1862, the building was a temporary hospital, with wooden boards laid across the tops of pews to create beds for the wounded.

During the time since the Civil War, other presidents have come to Epiphany Church as well.  A memorial services was held for slain President William McKinley in 1901, and since 1925, the church has rung its bells in honor of each newly inaugurated president.  President Franklin Delano Roosevelt also attended a service at Epiphany, at Christmas in 1942.

On today’s bike ride, I stopped by the historic Episcopal church, which is located at 1317 G Street in northwest D.C. (MAP), just two blocks from the White House.  And I was please to discover that the church is as relevant today as it has been throughout its history.  Today, the Church of the Epiphany remains an active, urban church that continues to adapt to the ever changing needs of the place where it was planted, with its small parish of about 350 diverse worshipers focused largely on serving, helping and supporting the surrounding homeless community.

Through its brightly colored and welcoming doors, the church houses “The Welcome Table” ministry to feed the hungry.  It also hosts weekly Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and has a licensed addiction counselor and an outreach ministry to assist downtown poor in obtaining information about housing, medical aid, employment and treatment facilities.  The church also operates the Epiphany Mission Center, where meetings and retreats are held.  But the church also ventures out from the building it calls home, with a “Street Church’ ministry that gathers at Franklin Square Park for worship and lunch with around 40-60 downtown poor and visitors every Tuesday.  Through these and other programs, the Church of the Epiphany ensures that it is not just part of history, but will continue to make history as well.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

Mathew Brady's Gravesite

Mathew Brady’s Gravesite

On this bike ride I stopped by the final resting place of Matthew Brady.  His gravesite is among those of the many historic and public figures buried in Historic Congressional Cemetery, located in the Capitol Hill neighborhood at 1801 E Street (MAP) in southeast D.C.

Mathew Brady was one of the most celebrated American photographers of the 19th century, and was well known for his portraits, particularly of public figures.  His first portrait studio in New York City was highly publicized, and in it Brady began to photograph as many famous people of his time as he could, which included Daniel Webster, James Fenimore Cooper, and Edgar Allan Poe.

A few years later he opened a second studio in D.C., where he continued his portraiture of public figures and prominent politicians, such as Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, and 18 of the 19 American Presidents from John Quincy Adams to William McKinley.  The exception was William Henry Harrison, who died in office only a month after his inauguration, and three years before Brady started his photographic collection.  Among his presidential photographs, Brady famously photographed President Abraham Lincoln on several occasions, and it is his portraits of Lincoln that are on the five dollar bill and the Lincoln penny.

As famous as he is for his portrait photography, Brady is even more widely known for innovative use of photography to document the Civil War.  Initially, at the outbreak of the war, Brady’s photography business sold portrait images to transient soldiers.  Brady also marketed to parents, encouraging them to capture images of their soldier sons before going to war and possibly being killed.  He even ran an advertisement in The New York Daily Tribune that read, “You cannot tell how soon it may be too late.”  However, he was soon taken with the idea of documenting the war itself. Eventually it was this photography that earned him the moniker of “The Father of Photojournalism.”

Seeking to create a comprehensive photo-documentation of the war, Brady organized a group of photographers and staff at his own considerable expense to follow the troops as the world’s first embedded field photographers.  Brady even bought photographs and negatives from private photographers in order to make the collection as complete as possible.

Almost as skilled at self-promotion as he was at photography, Brady held an exhibition during the middle of the war in his New York studio entitled “The Dead of Antietam,” in which he graphically displayed the carnage of the war with photographs of the battlefield before the dead had been removed.  A New York Times article in October of 1862 captures the impact of the exhibition, stating, “Mr. Brady has done something to bring home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war. If he has not brought bodies and laid them in our door-yards and along the streets, he has done something very like it.”

Following the war Brady continued to work in D.C., but the Civil War project ruined him financially.  He had spent over $100,000, much of it on credit, with the expectation that the U.S. government would want to buy his photographs when the war ended.  But when the government refused to do so, he was forced to declare bankruptcy and sell his New York City studio.  Unable to even pay the storage bill for his negatives, they were sold at public auction.  Ironically, they were bought by the U.S. War Department for $2,840.  Through lobbying by friends, Brady was eventually granted by Congress an additional payment of $25,000, but it was only a fraction of what he had spent on the project, and he remained financially destitute for the remainder of his life.

In addition to his financial problems, Brady also became depressed over the deterioration of his eyesight, which had begun years earlier.  He also became very lonely after the passing of his wife.  Then in 1895 Brady suffered two broken legs as a result of a traffic accident.  He never fully recovered, and died penniless and alone in the charity ward of Presbyterian Hospital in New York City on January 15, 1896.  Without enough money left to bury him, his funeral, and burial next to his wife at Congressional Cemetery, was financed by the New York 7th Regiment Veteran’s Association.

During my visit to the cemetery, as I took photographs of his grave with my cell phone, I couldn’t help but wonder what Brady would have thought of the current technology used in photography, and how widely accessible and relatively affordable that technology has made photography.  I also wondered what he would have thought of the number of photographs that people take these days. It’s estimated only a few million pictures were taken in the 80 years before the first commercial camera was introduced.  Photography then became more widespread when the Kodak Brownie was released in 1900, four years after Brady’s death.  Brady and his staff took approximately 10,000 photos during the Civil War, an enormous number at that time.  Today, we take more than 380 billion photos a year.  I imagine Brady would be absolutely astounded.

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