Posts Tagged ‘St. Charles College’

Mary Surratt's Gravesite

Mary Surratt’s Gravesite

Mary Surratt was a D.C. boarding house owner who was convicted of taking part in the conspiracy to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln. Sentenced to death, she was hanged on July 7, 1865, alongside three men who were also convicted of playing a part in the plot to assassinate the 16th President, thereby becoming the first woman executed by the United States federal government.

Mary Elizabeth Jenkins was born in Waterloo, Maryland, raised by her mother after her father died when she was still a toddler, and schooled in a Catholic female seminary. She married John Harrison Surratt at age seventeen, and they bought approximately 300 acres of land in Prince George’s County, Maryland, where they built a tavern and a post office.  There they raised three children, Isaac, Anna, and John Jr., on the property which became known at that time as Surrattsville.

After the Civil War began on April 12, 1861, Maryland remained part of “the Union,” but the Surratts were Confederate sympathizers. Isaac Surratt left Maryland and traveled to Texas, where he enlisted in the Confederate States Army, while John Jr. quit his studies at St. Charles College and became a courier for the Confederate Secret Service. And during the war, the tavern was thought to have doubled as a safe house for rebel agents and spies in the Confederate underground network.

When her husband suddenly collapsed and died in August of 1862, Mary found herself in dire financial straits and decided to move to D.C., where she lived in a townhouse her husband had previously purchased. The 39-year old widow rented out the family farm in Maryland, and converted the townhouse’s upper floor into a boardinghouse. Through renting the farm and operating the boarding house, Mary managed to eke out a modest living.

While debate among historians still continues over the role Mary and her boardinghouse played in Lincoln’s death, it is widely accepted that she hosted and possibly attended meetings about the conspiracy convened there by John Wilkes Booth and her son, John Jr.  Mary herself denied any involvement during her trial. After her conviction, attempts were made, particularly by her daughter, Anna, to persuade President Andrew Johnson to commute Mary’s death sentence. He refused, stating, “She kept the nest that hatched the egg.”

On this bike ride I chose to stop by some of the locations in D.C. that were part of both her life and her death. First I rode to the boarding house which she owned where John Wilkes Booth and his accomplices met. The building is still standing, and is located at 605 H Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood. Although the building has retained much of its original character, it is no longer a boarding house. The building is now a Chinese restaurant called Wok and Roll. An historic plaque next to the restaurant’s door reads, “A Historical Landmark, “Surratt Boarding House”, 604 H Street, N.W. (The 541), is said to have been where the conspirators plotted the abduction of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln in 1865, Plaque by Chi-Am Lions Club.”

I also rode to the location where Mary was hanged.  At the time it was the Parade Ground of the U.S. Penitentiary at 4th and P streets (MAP), fronting the Washington Channel in southwest D.C.  Today it is part of Fort McNair, and the courtyard where the hanging occurred is now a tennis court.

Lastly, during today’s ride I also rode to her final resting place, which is in Mount Olivet Cemetery, located at 1300 Bladensburg Road (MAP) in northeast D.C. This was the most interesting part of the bike ride. When I got to the cemetery I stopped at the front office to ask where Mary Surratt’s grave is located. Upon being told by the manager that they do not give out that kind of information, I assumed she did not recognize the name. So I explained that Mary Surratt was the Lincoln assassination conspirator who had been executed nearly 150 years ago. She said that Mary’s grave continued to be vandalized, even to this day, and that the family had specifically asked that information about the location of her grave not be given out.

However, because I was already there anyway, I decided to look around a little before I left.  I knew from researching it that she was buried in Section 31 of the cemetery.  A map at the entrance showed the different sections of the cemetery, but there was no Section 31 listed. So as I was riding around aimlessly looking at the very decorative gravestones of what must have been very wealthy and prominent people of that time period, it occurred to me that Mary Surratt would have been out of place among them. Having been a working class woman who was executed for her role in the assassination of the President, they would not have wanted her to be buried among them in that area of the cemetery. So I rode over to the other side of the cemetery – as far away as I could get from the most ornate gravestones in the cemetery. There I saw a small, very plain-looking gravestone that looked almost out of place for the cemetery. When I went up to it I saw that it read, simply, “Mrs. Surratt.”

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

Note:  Historic photos obtained from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The James Cardinal Gibbons Memorial

The James Cardinal Gibbons Memorial

The James Cardinal Gibbons Memorial Statue is a public artwork, and is located in front of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic parish, in a median at the confluence of 16th Street, Park Road and Sacred Heart Way (MAP), in northwest D.C.’s Columbia Heights neighborhood.

The statue depicts a bronze figure of James Gibbons seated, wearing cardinals robes, with his right hand in a raised position as if giving a blessing.  In his left hand he is holding a cross that hangs from his neck.  The base, which is made of granite, has a relief of a shield topped with an ecclesiastical hat. The shield has the coat of arms of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and the Cardinal’s personal coat of arms.  Around the shield are rows of tassels that represent the ranks of clergy. The statue was authorized by Congress and President Calvin Coolidge on April 23, 1928, at no expense to the United States. The piece was commissioned by the Knights of Columbus, and created by Italian sculptor Leo Lentelli.  It was unveiled in August of 1932, a date chosen to coincide with the Knights of Columbus’ 50th anniversary.  The statue was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.

Cardinal James Gibbons was born in 1834 in Baltimore, Maryland, to Irish immigrant parents.  After his father fell ill with tuberculosis, he moved the family back to Ireland, where he believed the air would benefit him.  After his father died in 1847, his mother moved 19-year old James and the rest of the family back to the United States in 1853, settling in New Orleans, Louisiana.

After deciding to pursue the priesthood, Gibbons entered St. Charles College in Ellicott City, Maryland.  After graduating from St. Charles, he entered St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore.  On June 30, 1861, Gibbons was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Francis Kenrick of Baltimore, and served during the Civil War as a volunteer chaplain at Fort McHenry.  In 1868, at the age of 34, he became one of the youngest Catholic bishops in the world, and was known by the nickname “the boy bishop.”  From 1869 to 1870, Gibbons attended the First Vatican Council in Rome, and ultimately was the last of its participants to die.  In 1877, the Baltimore-born Gibbons became the head of the oldest archdiocese in the United States. Also in 1887, he helped found The Catholic University of America in D.C., and served as its first chancellor.  Nine years later, in 1886, Pope Leo XIII named him as the second-ever U.S. cardinal.

A man who was often viewed as the face of the Catholic Church in America, Gibbons was also an advocate of the labor movement of those days, and played a key role in obtaining permission from the Pope for Catholics to join labor unions.  And in his dealings with the Vatican, he and other “Americanizers” championed the separation of church and state.

An ardent proponent of American civic institutions, Gibbons called the U.S. Constitution the finest instrument of government ever created.   He was also a frequent visitor to The White House.  Gibbons knew every president from Andrew Johnson to Warren Harding, and served as an advisor to many of them.  President William Howard Taft honored him for his humanitarian work at the 1911 golden jubilee celebration of his ordination. And in 1917, President Theodore Roosevelt hailed him as “the most venerated, respected and useful citizen in America.”