Posts Tagged ‘The White House’

Edward R. Murrow Park

The late Edward R. Murrow was the first journalist to have Federal parkland named after him, when a tiny triangle of land on Pennsylvania Avenue just west of the White House was dedicated to him almost 40 years ago. And during today’s lunchtime bike ride I stopped by the park to see it.

Located on Pennsylvania Avenue between 18th and 19th Streets (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Downtown district, it is just opposite the former U.S. Information Agency (USIA), which Murrow headed from 1961 to 1963. The USIA’s successor, the International Communication Agency, is now headquartered in the same building at 1776 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Edward R. Murrow was born Egbert Roscoe Murrow at Polecat Creek, North Carolina in April of 1908. He was the youngest of three brothers born to Quaker parents. When Murrow was six years old, his family moved across the country to Skagit County in western Washington, just 30 miles south of the U.S.-Canada border. He attended high school in nearby Edison, excelled on the debate team, and was president of the student body in his senior year. After graduation from high school, Murrow enrolled at Washington State College, where he was also active in college politics. After earning his bachelor’s degree in 1930, he moved back east to New York.

It was in New York that Murrow joined the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) as director of talks and education in 1935, and remained with the network for his entire career. He first gained prominence as a broadcast journalist and war correspondent during World War II with a series of live radio broadcasts from Europe for the news division of the CBS. During the war he recruited and worked closely with a team of war correspondents who came to be known as the Murrow Boys.

A pioneer of radio and television news broadcasting, Murrow produced a series of reports on his television program See It Now which helped lead to the censure of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Fellow journalists Eric Sevareid, Ed Bliss, Bill Downs, Dan Rather, and Alexander Kendrick consider Murrow one of journalism’s greatest figures, noting his honesty and integrity in delivering the news.

Regardless of your political persuasion, most people can agree that we could use a lot more honesty and integrity in our current news reporting. I guess you could say that society needs another Edward R. Murrow. Unfortunately, there was only one.

         

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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Bluestone Sidewalk Along Seventeenth Street

During today’s lunchtime bike ride I stopped to rest on a bench on 17th Street, near President’s Park, just south of the White House. As I sat there for a few moments watching the tourists go by, I noticed that the sidewalk seemed different than what I usually see. In fact, I didn’t recall seeing anything similar here in D.C. Sidewalks throughout the city are typically formed walkways made out of cement. But the sidewalks where I was sitting were made of stone. So when I had a chance later I looked into it, and my research confirmed that they are both unique and historic.

The sidewalk is significant as the last remaining segment of an original streetscape feature used throughout President’s Park. While President’s Park South was filled and completed in the late 1870s, the side of the park along 17th Street was a low, badly drained area until new fill was added to bring it up to grade in the early 1880s. Then beginning in 1887, bluestone flag sidewalks were constructed along the front of the park bordering B Street, since renamed Constitution Avenue. While no date of construction can be firmly ascertained for the bluestone flag sidewalk on Seventeenth Street, it likely dates from this period or soon afterwards. A grassy strip between the sidewalk and the street was later added in the 1920s.

Most of the bluestone sidewalk surrounding President’s Park was eventually replaced with ones constructed with cement forms. As the stones cracked or fell into disrepair, it was decided that it would be cheaper to simply replace them with the same type of sidewalk that is present throughout the rest of the city. This was done everywhere except, for some reason, along 17th Street.

What stone sidewalk remains consists of rectangular bluestone slate flags, six-feet square, and extends along the east side of 17th Street from opposite C Street to opposite E Street (MAP). The sidewalk is separated from the granite curb by what was once a three-foot wide grassy strip, which is now filled in with granite pavers.

The sidewalk is not a tourist attraction. In fact, I doubt anyone walking on it even noticed it was different, let alone had any idea of its history. But I enjoyed seeing it, and thinking back about the way things were at the time when the bluestone sidewalks were constructed. The Civil War had been over for not all that long, and Grover Cleveland was the President.  The Washington Monument was almost completed and would open the following year.  The Catholic University of America was founded, and the first Woodward & Lothrop department store was built. Alexander Graham Bell built his Volta Laboratory in Georgetown. There were no automobiles, so the streets were used by horses and carriages. And form and quality were considerations in public building projects, not just price and practicality.

         
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

A President’s Surprise Visit to the Lincoln Memorial

During this morning’s bike ride I not only rode by The Lincoln Memorial, but I also rode back in history.  As I paused at the memorial, I went back in time as I thought about this day in 1972.

Today is the anniversary of one of the strangest things to happen during President Richard Nixon’s time in office.  And that’s saying something when you think about some of the other things that happened during his time as commander in chief, such as the time, when he was still running for president, when he appeared on the politically charged, sketch comedy TV show “Laugh-In” and awkwardly asked, “Sock it to me?”  By the way, for the rest of his life Nixon contended that “appearing on Laugh-In is what got him elected.”  Other incidents during his presidency include: the time he met in the Oval Office with Elvis Presley, during which the King of Rock and Roll lobbied to be deputized as a federal agent in the War on Drugs, and; the time he declared to a roomful of newspaper editors during a press conference in Disney World at the height of the Watergate scandal, “I am not a crook.”

It all began days earlier, on April 30, 1972.  The anti-war movement was shocked when President Richard Nixon announced a major new escalation in the Vietnam War – the U.S. invasion of Cambodia.  It took many people by surprise inasmuch as he had addressed the nation just ten days earlier, outlining his plan for the withdrawal of 150,000 troops from Vietnam, seemingly signaling that he was serious about his promise to get America out of the war.  Near the end of his announcement about Cambodia, Nixon appealed for calm, especially on America’s college campuses.  He nonetheless expected blowback.  And that is exactly what he got.

Campuses across the country exploded in dissent, culminating on May 4th when National Guardsmen unleashed a 13-second, 67-shot barrage of gunfire toward student demonstrators at Kent State University, killing four students and wounding nine, one of whom was paralyzed from the waist down with a bullet lodged in his spine.  In the tense days following Kent State, more than 450 U.S. colleges, universities, and even high schools were disrupted by strikes.

Locally, impromptu rallies erupted all over the D.C. region, and a major demonstration was planned for May 9 on the National Mall.  Law enforcement entities went on alert, mobilizing all available resources including the entire D.C. police force and 5,000 military personnel from the 82nd Airborne Division who were stationed in the Old Executive Office Building next door to the White House, which was encircled by D.C. transit buses parked bumper to bumper as an additional security barrier.

The above information is provided to give a sense of what a highly-charged and volatile atmosphere existed nationally, and especially here in D.C., at that time.  Because it was within this setting that one of the most bizarre moments of Nixon’s presidency took place when, in the early morning hours of May 9, 1970, the president made an impromptu visit to The Lincoln Memorial.

At approximately 4:00 a.m., Nixon was awake and listening to a composition by Rachmaninoff as he took in the majestic view that the White House affords of the Lincoln Memorial.  He also observed students protestors beginning to gather for the protest planned for later that day.  Inspired to visit the hippie contingent, Nixon asked his valet, Manolo Sanchez, if he wanted to take in the Memorial up close at night.  The Secret Service was astonished but adhered to the orders of their commander in chief to take the impromptu trip. Nixon, Sanchez and approximately four agents took the presidential limousine to the foot of the Lincoln Memorial.

It was there that Nixon engaged a small group of students.  He began by acknowledging that most surely thought of him as a real “S.O.B.”  Irregardless, he explained that they all shared the same goal – stopping the killing in Southeast Asia.  And despite varying interpretations of his recently announced invasion of Cambodia, his overall actions proved this contention as he did more to extricate the U.S. from that conflict than his predecessors. During his discussion with the protestors, he also spoke about his views as a pacifist, given his Quaker background. Nixon explained that he changed after WWII to a view war as only useful as long as it was necessary.

The discussion also vacillated with lighter subjects, which was the socially awkward Nixon’s attempt to communicate with young people on their terms.  He spoke about the benefits of traveling and dating while young.  Nixon discussed the Syracuse football team with students from New York, and surfing with a student from California.  This was a leader not naturally at ease with people.  Yet it was Nixon who was willing to open a dialogue with individuals naturally opposed to him in a manner few with such power have ever attempted.

As the sun began to rise, Nixon, having exhausted both himself and his welcome, began walking back to the presidential limousine. As he did, a student Nixon describes as “a bearded fellow from Detroit” rushed up and asked if he could have his picture taken with the president. Nixon instructed the White House doctor to take the student’s picture with the president.  “He seemed to be quite delighted,” Nixon says of that bearded fellow from Detroit. “It was, in fact, the broadest smile that I saw on the entire visit.”

The president along with Sanchez and his entourage, including the Secret Service agents, whose numbers had increased during the course of the visit, then departed.  But they did not return to the White House.  Not yet.  Sanchez had never seen the famous “well” of the House of Representatives, either. Having roused security there, the President was sitting at one of the House desks as his valet took to the same podium used for State of the Union addresses.  From there, and now also with press secretary Ron Ziegler in tow, the presidential entourage proceeded to the Mayflower Hotel on Connecticut Avenue for breakfast, before heading back to the White House.

There were no news crews or fanfare. There was no prepared speech, talking points, or plan on what to do when Nixon arrived. And all that remains are a few photographs and the recollections of those involved, including Nixon’s, as can be heard on the video below.

           
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

A Post-White House Presidential Residence

Unlike when most presidents’ terms in office conclude, when President Obama left the White House in January of 2017 he and his family chose to stay here in D.C.  In fact, the only other former President to live in D.C. after leaving the presidency was Woodrow Wilson, who also has the distinction of being the only former president interred in D.C.

The Obamas’ reason for staying in the national capital city was so that Sasha (the youngest daughter), could stay and graduate from high school.  At the time she was a sophomore at a private high school named Sidwell Friends, where her older sister Malia graduated in 2016.  As President Obama explained, “We’re going to have to stay a couple of years in D.C. probably so Sasha can finish.  Transferring someone in the middle of high school?  Tough.”

So after living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for eight years, what kind of home did the Obama family move into?  On today’s lunchtime bike ride I stopped by to see their current home, located at 2446 Belmont Road (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Kalorama neighborhood, to find out.

While not as impressive as the White House, the Obama family’s current home is newer than it.  The White House has been the residence of every U.S. President since John Adams in 1800.  The Obamas’ Belmont Road house was built 128 years later, in 1928.  The White House has 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms and 6 levels in the residence, while the Obamas’ current house has 13 rooms, eight and a half bathrooms, and three levels.  The Obama family’s previous residence has 35 fireplaces, while their current home has only one.  The White House has formal gardens, vegetable gardens and a rose garden.  Their new home has only a formal garden.  Lastly, the White House is approximately 55,000 square feet and sits on 784,080 square feet of fenced in land, while the Belmont Road house is 6,441 square feet and sits on fenced in lot that measures 11,915 square feet.

The White House also has a bowling alley, a swimming pool, a tennis court, a movie theater, three elevators, butlers and personal assistants, groundskeepers, and five full-time chefs.  The Obamas do not yet have a pool but recently were approved for a permit to build one.  And the Belmont Road house has a lower level au-pair suite for Barack’s mother-in-law.

Although not for sale, the White House is worth $397.9 million.  The Belmont Road house was listed for $5,750,000 in 2008, and then listed and relisted twice in 2012 for $7,995,000.  Having not found a buyer, it was subsequently listed again in 2014 for $5,750,000.  It sold in may of that year for $5,295,000 to former Clinton White House press secretary Joe Lockhart and his wife, Giovanna Gray Lockhart.  An Obama family corporation, Homefront Holdings, LLC., then purchased the home from them in 2017 for $8.1 million, which is more than quadruple the price of comparable real estate listings in the area, where the median price is $1,995,000.

Despite the fact that last year’s move from their home at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was a substantial step down for Barack, Michelle, and Sasha, their current home is much larger and more valuable than the home they still own at 5046 South Greenwood Avenue in south side Chicago’s Kenwood neighborhood, where they lived prior to the White House, and still stay on some visits back home to Chicago.

The Obamas will most likely remain in their current home in the nation’s capital until at least the summer of 2019, after Sasha graduates.  After that, they may continue to reside here, they may return to Chicago, or they may end up somewhere else.

 

NOTE:  Unlike all of the other photos on this blog, I did not take the above photos of the Obama family’s current home.  Those photos were taken from the real estate listing at the time they bought the home.   Because the Secret Service, which guards the former president’s homes here in D.C. and in Chicago have restricted access to the roads on which they are located, the following photos were the only ones I was able to take of what I could see on my bike ride.  They show uniformed Secret Service officers at blockades at either end of the road, and one of the black SUVs I saw while I was riding around the neighborhood in which sat plain clothes Secret Service agents.

 

 [Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Plant-Based D.C. Landmarks

Sadly, despite having worked in downtown D.C. for the past 30 years, I had never visited the United States Botanic Garden during the Christmas holiday season before this year.  I’ve been there many times but not during the holidays. But a friend who only lived here for a year before moving out of the area knew about the Botanic Garden’s annual holiday display, entitled Season’s Greenings, and the sights, smells, and sounds that accompany it.  When she asked me about this year’s display, it prompted me to go check it out.  And I’m so glad I did.

This year’s display is a multifaceted one that stretches throughout the Botanic Garden.  First, it includes the return of a series of D.C. landmarks made out of plant materials.  The holiday display also includes thousands of blooms throughout the Conservatory, from exotic orchids to a showcase of heirloom and newly developed poinsettia varieties in the seasonal Poinsettia Room.  Lastly, this year’s holiday decorations include a showcase of model trains chugging around, below, through, and above plant-based recreations of iconic sights and roadside attractions from across the United States.

I will be covering the Poinsettia display, and the model train and roadside attractions showcase in the near future.  Today’s blog post focuses on the collection of D.C. landmarks, all made from a myriad of plant and other natural materials, which is displayed in the Garden Court.  There are a dozen local landmarks and memorials on display this year.  The White House swing set, which had been included in previous years, was not present this year because the actual swing set is no longer at the White House.  In it’s place is the Albert Einstein Memorial.  Also new this year is the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened a little over a year ago.  All of the landmarks would be incredible in and of themselves.  But knowing that they are made of plants adds to the experience.

For added holiday cheer at the Botanic Garden, there are concerts on Tuesday and Thursday evenings in December, when hours are extended until 8pm.  If you can, I highly recommend going on one of these days for both the music and to see the exhibit and plant collections illuminated by colorful lights.  One of my first thoughts after seeing Seasons Greenings was wishing that I had known about it and gone in previous years.  So do yourself a favor and go so you don’t have the same thought years from now.

 

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

1 – U.S. Capitol Building
2 – The Thomas Jefferson Memorial
3 – Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building
4 – Lincoln Memorial
5 – National Museum of African American History and Culture
6 – National Museum of the American Indian
7 – Smithsonian Institution, The Castle
8 – U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory
9 – U.S. Supreme Court
10 – Washington Monument
11 – White House
12 – Albert Einstein Memorial

NOTE:  My blog post on “Seasons Greetings: Railroads and Roadside Attractions” will appear next Monday.

For today’s bike ride I rode over to Arlington National Cemetery (MAP).  However, my original destination within the cemetery was changed when I saw some artillery guns being set up at the end of McClellan Drive.  I asked one of the soldiers what was happening and found out that they were members of the Presidential Salute Battery, and they were there getting ready to participate in a military honors funeral.  So I decided to stay and watch, and go to my previously planned destination on another day.

Formed in 1953, the Presidential Salute Battery is a United States Army artillery battery that is part of the 3rd United States Infantry Regiment, or The Old Guard, the President of the United States’ escort regiment.  Also known as the 3rd U.S. Infantry Salute Guns Platoon, the battery  is chiefly responsible for firing ceremonial cannon volleys to render honors to visiting foreign dignitaries and heads of state at the White House, the Pentagon and elsewhere in the D.C., area. The battery also fires the final salutes during many funerals at Arlington National Cemetery.  They are also tasked with providing artillery support to the regiment during combat operations in the event of the need to defend the national capital city.  It also serves as the battalion’s mortar platoon, providing firepower support during tactical training exercises at nearby Fort A.P. Hill, in Virginia.  The guns platoon is the only unit of its kind in the Army, and its busy schedule includes more than 300 ceremonies each year.

The platoon is equipped with eight 3-inch anti-tank guns of World War II vintage, mounted on 105mm Howitzer chassis. Each gun weighs 5,775 pounds and fires 75mm blank shells with 1.5 pounds of powder

The battery is customarily deployed to Arlington National Cemetery for the funerals of sitting and former presidents of the United States, sitting cabinet secretaries, and military flag officers.  For funerals at Arlington it uses one of two firing positions, either from Section 4 of the cemetery on Dewey Drive, or at Red Springs on McClellan Drive where they were set up today.

The gun salutes rendered by the battery are done according to a customary order of arms which is 21 volleys for heads of state (including the president of the United States and former presidents); 19 for the vice-president of the United States, foreign chiefs of government, and members of the cabinet of the United States; and 17, 15, 13, and 11 for flag officers of the rank of O-10, O-9, O-8, and O-7, respectively.  Today’s salute was a 13-gun version done for an former admiral in the Navy.

         

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

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Statue of Albert Gallatin

Abraham Alfonse Albert Gallatin was born in Geneva on January 29, 1761, to an aristocratic Swiss family. He immigrated to America when he was 19 years old, where he became a politician, diplomat, ethnologist and linguist. He served as a Representative, Senator, Ambassador, and he became the fourth and longest-serving Secretary of the Treasury in United States history.  And on this bike ride, I went to see a statue dedicated to him, which is in front of The United States Department of the Treasury Building, located at 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), next door to the White House in northwest D.C.

Gallatin was originally elected to the United States Senate in 1793. However, his political career got off to a bumpy start, and he was removed from office by a 14–12 party-line vote after a protest raised by his opponents suggested he did not meet the required years of citizenship. The dispute that resulted in his removal had important ramifications though. At that time, the Senate always held closed sessions. However, the Senators in the newly established nation were leery of anything which might hint that they intended to establish an aristocracy. So they opened up their chamber for the first time for the debate over whether to unseat Gallatin. Soon after, open sessions for the Senate and a more transparent government became standard procedure.

Gallatin’s brief initial time in the Senate before being removed also had important ramifications for him. Not only did the election controversy add to his fame, but he also proved himself to be an effective opponent of America’s first Secretary of the Treasury’s, Alexander Hamilton’s, financial policies.

Returning home to Pennsylvania, Gallatin found himself embroiled in the Whiskey Rebellion, which involved a whiskey tax imposed in 1791 by Congress at the demand of Alexander Hamilton to raise money to pay the national debt.  Gallatin helped bring about a non-violent end to the conflict just before President George Washington, who had denounced the tax protesters and called out the militia, lead the army into western Pennsylvania to end the rebellion.  As a result of the  popularity he gained in advocating their cause, he was again elected two years later, this time to the House of Representatives, were he served until 1801. There he inaugurated the House Committee on Finance, which later grew into the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

Gallatin’s mastery of public finance during his three terms in Congress lead to President Thomas Jefferson appointing “the foreigner with a French accent”, as he was described by his critics, as Secretary of the Treasury in 1801.  He would go on to serve until 1814, under both Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, holding the longest tenure in this office in American history.

Gallatin went on to achieve other accomplishments after leaving the Treasury Department.  But the remainder of his career after serving as Secretary of the Treasury began with just as bumpy a start as his career in government began.  He was nominated to run for vice president, but was forced to withdraw from the race because he lacked popular support.  Gallatin was again offered the position of Secretary of the Treasury by President John Quincy Adams, but turned it down.  After that, however, he went on to become the American ambassador to France, was one of the founders of New York University, and became president of the National Bank of New York City, which was temporarily renamed Gallatin Bank.  His last great endeavor was founding the American Ethnological Society.  And based on his studies of Native American languages, he has been called the father of American ethnology.

But it was his time as Secretary of the Treasury that earned Gallatin the honor of the statue outside of the Department of the Treasury Headquarters.  And it is located on the northern patio of the building, which is the opposite side of the building from the statue of his rival, Alexander Hamilton.

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

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The Butt-Millet Memorial Fountain

On this lunchtime bike ride I rode over to President’s Park, which encompasses the White House, a visitor center, Lafayette Square, and The Ellipse. There are a number of monuments and memorials located throughout the park, and on this ride I specifically went there to see the Butt-Millet Memorial Fountain, which is located just south and within sight of the White House, and about thirty yards northwest of The Zero Milestone, near the western junction of E street and Ellipse Road (MAP).

The fountain is a memorial to Archibald Willingham DeGraffenreid Clarendon Butt and Francis Davis Millet, believed to be the only officials of the United States government who perished, along with more than 1,500 others, when the “unsinkable” RMS Titanic hit an iceberg during its maiden voyage and sunk on the night of April 14th through to the morning of April 15th in 1912.

On May 16, 1912, just one month after the Titanic went down, Senator Augustus Octavius Bacon of Georgia submitted a resolution authorizing the constructing of a private memorial to Butt and Millet on federally owned land somewhere in D.C..  Bacon argued that Butt and Millet were public servants who deserved to be memorialized separately from the rest of the dead.  Initial press reports indicated that President William Howard Taft planned an elaborate dedication ceremony for the memorial.  But Taft was no longer president by late 1913, having lost the presidential election to Woodrow Wilson.  So the Butt-Millet Memorial Fountain was dedicated without ceremony on October 25, 1913.

The Fountain is 12 feet high, with an octagonal grey granite base which supports an 8 feet wide bowl made of golden brown Tennessee marble. Rising up from the bowl is a panel with two relief figures. The one on the southern side of the panel depicts a man in armor and helmet who is holding a shield, representing military valor and memorializing Butt. The figure on the north side of the panel depicts a woman with paint brush and palette, represents the fine arts and memorializes Millet.

Butt, known as “Archie” to his friends, was a United States Army officer. He served in the Quartermaster Corps during the Spanish-American War, where he gained notice for his work in logistics and animal husbandry.   Later, after brief postings in D.C and Cuba, he was appointed as a military aide to President Theodore Roosevelt. At the time of his death he was serving as a military aide to President Taft. Known as one of the most eligible bachelors in D.C., Butt never married and mystery surrounded his personal life as well as his death. There were many sensational accounts reported of Butt’s last moments aboard the Titanic.  But none of them has ever been verified. Although his body was never found, a cenotaph in the shape of a Celtic cross memorializes him in Arlington National Cemetery.

Millet was an accomplished painter, sculptor, and writer, and at the time of his death served as vice chairman of the Commission of Fine Arts, a committee with approval authority for the “design and aesthetics” of construction within the national capitol city. Some mystery also surrounded Millet’s personal life. Despite being married and a father of three, he is also thought to have had several same-sex relationships during his life.   Millet’s body was recovered after the sinking and was buried in Bridgewater, Massachusetts.

Despite the mystery in their personal lives, both men were well liked in local social circles and among the D.C. elite. In Butt’s eulogy in The Washington Times, it stated that, “the two men had a sympathy of mind which was most unusual.” Noting that Butt was “mourned by Washingtonians of all walks of life,” the article claimed, “None could help admiring either man.” Some historians have also asserted that Butt and Millet were involved in a romantic relationship. They were close friends and housemates, often attending social gatherings and parties together. And they were aboard the Titanic because they were returning to the United States after vacationing together in Europe.  Quite possible an early example of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” they were together in both life and death.

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

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President Lincoln’s Cottage

On this lunchtime bike ride I visited what’s now known as President Lincoln’s “cottage”, which is a national monument located on the grounds of the “Old Soldiers’ Home,” known today as the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home.  Located in northwest D.C. near the Petworth and Park View neighborhoods (MAP), the Gothic Revival-style residence, a style considered particularly appropriate at that time for country cottages, has a very interesting history.

Originally known as the “Corn Rigs” cottage, it was built in 1842 by wealthy D.C. banker George Washington Riggs, at his 250-acre summer retreat.  The word “cottage”, however, is somewhat of a misnomer inasmuch as it is actually a 34-room country home.  Almost a decade later, Riggs offered to sell his property to the Federal government, which was looking for a place to create a home for retired and disabled Army veterans.  An army committee purchased the estate in 1851 and utilized the house to create the Old Soldiers’ Home later the same year.  Six years later, in 1857, the retired soldier residents moved into a newly-built large stone Gothic building near the cottage. 

With the cottage now vacant, the Old Soldiers’ Home invited President James Buchanan to make his summer residence there.  Accepting the offer, President Buchanan spent a few weeks out of at least two summers at the cottage during the remainder of his presidency.

Presumably on the recommendation of President Buchanan, the next president, Abraham Lincoln, first visited the Old Soldiers’ Home just three days after his first inauguration.  Later, President Lincoln and his family would escape to the cottage between June and November in 1862, 1863, and 1864.   The family would almost certainly have returned in 1865 if President Lincoln had not been assassinated in April of that year.  In all, President Lincoln and his family spent over a quarter of his Presidency there. Each summer the White House staff transported some 19 cartloads of the Lincoln family’s belongings to the cottage. Unfortunately, there is no record of exactly what they brought.

With the Civil War officially commencing just a month after he was inaugurated, Lincoln could not escape the Civil War and his burden of leadership, even at the cottage. Every morning the President rode by horseback to the White House to carry out official business, returning to the cottage every evening.  Today, the drive down Georgia Avenue takes just a few minutes, but in the 1860s the commute through what was then a mostly wilderness area was a little slower and more dangerous.  The cavalry units that were to eventually accompanied him on his commute, as well as the encampments, hospitals, and cemeteries he passed on his was to work served, as constant reminders of the war.

It was while staying at the cottage, in fact, that President Lincoln came his closest to the war.  On July 12, 1864, when Confederate General Jubal Early attacked Fort Stevens, the President brashly went to observe the nearby battle, even though his family had been evacuated to the White House for the four days of the battle.  It was during this time that President Lincoln became the only president ever to come under hostile fire while in office.  During the second day of the battle, as he stood on atop the parapet of the fort to witness the battle, the President came under direct fire of Confederate sharpshooters.  Perhaps saving his life, a young officer named Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who would eventually go on to serve as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, shouted to the President, “Get down, you damn fool!”

Other interesting events for which President Lincoln’s cottage served as the backdrop include the fact that the President was staying at the cottage when he wrote the final draft of the Emancipation Proclamation in September of 1862.  And in August of 1864, a sniper attempted to assassinate the President as he traveled back to the cottage alone late at night.  The lone rifle shot missed Lincoln’s head by inches, but during the attempt the President lost the hat he was wearing.  The following day, two soldiers went looking for the hat.  They discovered it on the path, with a bullet hole through the side.  Also, in the summer of 1864, John Wilkes Booth, who would later in April of 1865 successfully assassinate President Lincoln, formulated his original plot, which was to kidnap the President during his commute from the cottage to the White House.

President Lincoln reportedly made his last visit to the cottage on April 13, 1865, the day before his assassination.  But he was not the last president to take advantage of the healthy breezes at the cottage.  Rutherford B. Hayes spent the summers of 1877 to 1880 there.  And Chester A. Arthur stayed at the cottage during renovations at the White House in the winter of 1882, and spent summers there as well.

In more recent years, the cottage has been recognized for its historical significance. The Secretary of the Interior designated the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home, which includes the pre-Civil War cottage, as a National Historic Landmark in November of 1973.  President Bill Clinton declared the cottage and 2.3 surrounding acres a National Monument in July of 2000.  To this day it holds the distinction of being the only national monument in the country that operates with no Federal funding.  The following year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation began a thorough restoration of the cottage, restoring it to the period of Lincoln’s occupancy according to standards established by the National Park Service. The restoration was completed in 2007.  President Lincoln’s Cottage was then opened to the public for the first time in history on President’s Day in 2008. It remains open today, and is managed through a cooperative agreement between the Armed Forces Retirement Home and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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LincolnCottageTour

Click on this photo to take a virtual tour of the inside of The Lincoln Cottage.

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The Silver Man

One of the highlights of this lunchtime bike ride was happening upon a street performance artist who had set up and was performing in front of the White House.  I have also seen him at the Lincoln Memorial. He is “The Silver Man,” and he has a silver backpack, silver guitar and even a silver bike as well.  He stands motionless beside a sign that says he will move if you pay him. He also has a sign that he is running for President, and his campaign slogan is “The best nation is a donation.”  Based on what I’ve seen from many of the other presidential candidates, he may have a chance.  This kind of street performer is common in other cities like New York and Baltimore.  But unlike public artwork, which is prevalent, you don’t see street performers as frequently here in the national capital city.  I, for one, would welcome more street performers like him.  However, I’d have to see what The Silver Man’s platform is and his position on the issues before he would get my support as a candidate for President. 

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