Unless otherwise noted, all content and photos are © 2018 Monumental Thoughts.
Everyone goes to Ford’s Theatre to see where Abraham Lincoln died. And, thank goodness because that’s a big chunk of my tours.
But, it’s not the only presidential assassination spot in town. James Garfield (my 10th cousin) was shot at what’s now the National Gallery of Art’s West Building. It was the Baltimore & Potomac Railway Station and the new president was walking through it on July 2, 1881 when shot by a madman named Charles Guiteau. It seems Guiteau was told by God to become the U.S. ambassador to France despite no qualifications. When Guiteau was rebuffed, God said to kill Garfield so Guiteau shot him twice. “My God, what is this?” Garfield exclaimed.
Garfield died on Sept. 19, 1881 more from poor medical care than the bullets themselves. And Guiteau was surprised he wasn’t released from prison by a cheering public right up to the point when he was hanged nearly one year later.
Garfield was only president for four months. He’s best remembered by the black statue on the west side of the U.S. Capitol (where buses drop off) because he was a Congressman for 17 years.
Signs over the assassination were recently installed on the National Mall side of the art gallery and aren’t in the exact spot where Garfield was shot. The train station was demolished in 1908.
Looking for a little holiday spirit? I’d wander along F St. NW from 15th to 9th Sts.
Businesses along this route generally have large wreaths along this stretch. After seeing the National Christmas Tree near 15th, you’ll pass places like the Willard Hotel, Hamilton restaurant and more. By 9th St. you’ll visit the Christmas village of local artisans. I actually bought something this year.
So don’t be a grinch. Take a stroll down Christmas way.
Visiting the National Christmas tree by the White House has been a regular activity since my parents took me when I was around five-years old. (Funny, the trees seemed a lot bigger then.)
This year’s version is a stunner. The tree is a living Colorado Blue Spruce that’s there all year and people like to see it even in the summer. But this year’s may be the best I remember.
I’ve only been to the official lighting once. It’s typically really cold or raining and sure enough it was blustery and frigid this year so I’m glad to have watched it on TV. But, my wife and I went the next night when it was a little warmer and much less crowded. It’s always fun to see the trains running underneath and this year my coin landed on the train as it passed.
The White House tree isn’t the only stunner in town. The U.S. Capitol tree doesn’t require tickets for its lighting and you can park in the nearby parking lots after 5 p.m. on weekdays and on weekends (despite what the signs say. I’ve asked the Capitol police.) The tree in City Center (which I disagree as a name, but whatever) is pretty nice, too.
So, wander around town at night. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
David Farragut — you know the person much be important when two metro stops are named for him.
David Farragut was a Civil War admiral who uttered the saying now paraphrased, “Damn the torpedos, full speed ahead.” He said it differently, but history doesn’t let facts get in the way of a good story.
Anyway, Farragut had his ups and downs in the Union Navy. He freed New Orleans from a blockade, but suffered a major defeat at the siege of Port Hudson. However, Farragut rebounded by winning the Battle of Mobile Bay on Aug. 5, 1864 that was the Confederacy’s final major port on the Gulf of Mexico.
Despite heavily mined, Farragut ordered the fleet into battle. When a mine (then called torpedo) hit the USS Tecumseh, other ships started retreating before Farragut ordered, “Damn the torpedos. Four bells, Captain Drayton, go ahead. Jouett, full speed.”
Farrgut won the battle and was promoted to vice admiral. He later became a full admiral in 1866 and served active duty until dying in 1870 at age 69.
Well, Thanksgiving’s over and so is tour season. Aside a tour here and there, most guides are spending the next two months sitting by the fire and glad to escape winter’s cold.
Strangely, the season ended with a flourish –five tours in 10 days. Folks from London to Atlanta to Boston to I can’t remember. It felt like springtime.
But along the way a couple unique experiences showed there’s always something new ahead.
The first was at Ford’s Theatre where I’ve been hundreds of times given I specialize in Lincoln assassination tours. The theater was closed as they readied for a new play, but we could go to the balcony. The ranger mentioned the Lincoln box was open. Took me a half second to head over to the room that’s normally sealed. Finally, a chance for an up close look at where Lincoln was shot. I’ve heard of the door being opened, but never saw it until now.
My tourists seemed only slight impressed. I was the one walking away with a big grin. Hey, works for me.
The second came at the Supreme Court. After seeing the chamber, I noticed people exiting across the hallway onto the second-story balcony above the tall steps in the building’s front. Again, a half second later, I was there taking in the view. Maybe this happens more often, but it was my first time in eight years of guiding.
It just shows an old dog does find a new bone now and then.
Wonder what’s next?
It’s the rear of Ford’s Theatre where assassin John Wilkes Booth entered and exited. The alley to the theater is called Baptist Alley because the theater was originally a Baptist church.
I don’t know of a tour that goes behind the theater aside mine. And, I only do it during the day. It seems like a security risk at night even though it’s very clean and essentially a bunch of office buildings surrounding the alley. But, you just can’t take a chance in the dark. I have no problem walking it during the day, though.
The alley during the April 13, 1865 assassination was bordered by stables and shanty tents. Remember this was still the Civil War and not enough housing for the huge influx of people in the town. Booth could pass through it without notice, especially since he was a theater regular.
To reach the alley from Ford’s, walk up to F St., turn right, walk about a half block and you’ll see the entrance shown right. Just follow the alley to the rear.
I recently made my first trip to Theodore (did anybody but his mother not call him Teddy?) Roosevelt Island. A long walk around the 88.5-acre island across from the John F. Kennedy Performing Arts Center along the Virginia banks of the Potomac River is always good for the soul.
There were lots of couples walking dogs, families giving the young kids someplace to run off some energy, photographers and naturalists wandering the park, though most days it’s pretty quiet. You cross over from the parking lot alongside the George Washington Parkway on a wooden bridge that’s pretty cool for taking photos, especially with the river currently iced over.
It’s not a far walk until seeing Roosevelt’s 17-foot statue by Paul Manship, two fountains and four large stone monoliths with Teddy’s favorite sayings dedicated in 1967. It’s a pretty good likeness for something in the middle of nowhere.
But then the real fun begins. The path circles the island so you can go either way. It’s supposedly 1.3 miles, though it sure felt longer. The island’s topography is so varied with granite rocks alongside a marsh that rises above the long wooden path that is underwater in the spring.
There are great photo spots for Georgetown down to the Lincoln Memorial, but the coolest thing is watching for the deer. Not two seconds after remembering to look for them I spotted a handful munching away in tall grass. They’re pretty tame, though don’t approach them or a hoof may land upside your head.
The island is a National Park site and has restrooms on the southern side during warm months. It was earlier known as My Lord’s Island, Mason’s Island and Anacostine Island for the Indians who first inhabited it in 1668. A series of owners followed, including three generations of George Mason’s descendents.
A mansion was built by John Mason in 1796, but the family vacated the island in 1831. Two fires destroyed the house that was completely demolished by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935. The Washington Gas Light Co. bought the land in 1913 only to sell it to the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association in 1931. Congress approved a memorial in 1932, but a generation passed before it was built.
We’ve all seen the World War II movies. The wave of dead bodies that seem like a Hollywood trick and not someone else’s family.
I recently learned one of them was family on my mother’s side. A couple branches over on the family tree that made us third cousins, one generation removed. Harold Grover English died on May 10,1945 during the invasion of Okinawa. The sixth deadliest battle of World War II, and the deadliest in the Pacific theater, saw 82,000 American casualties, including more than 12,500 dead. The Japanese lost 110,000 and the civilian population lost 150,000.
Harold was among the 6th Marine Division, Company K, 3rd Battalion, 22nd Regiment that cleared the northern part of the island. His nephew, who was born a few months later to the latter’s twin sister that married a soldier who served alongside Harold, told me little was known about how Harold died, only that the private was wounded in the early assault and later died.
It felt like a gut punch reading this history.
Harold is buried in Arlington National Cemetery’s Sec. 34, grave 2895. It’s a remote part on the eastern side of the cemetery where few visitors ever walk past. Harold’s stone near a large tree is so deteriorated that family has asked cemetery officials to replace it. I’ll be there whenever they do.
Harold was only 19 years old. Part of the “Greatest Generation” that sacrificed so much with Harold sacrificing everything.
But the story doesn’t end there. Harold’s brothers Marshall T. and James Herbert English are also buried at Arlington. James was a Staff Sergeant who was in the 92nd Depot and later died in 1964 at age 47. Marshall was a Sergeant First Class in the Army who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam before dying in 1986 at age 61.
Despite dying 22 years apart, the brothers lie aside each other in Section 31, Nos. 1391 and 1392.
The two are in the section on the right as you approach John F. Kennedy’s eternal flame. While visiting the pair, a funeral arrived about 200 feet away. It’s unusual to see someone buried in that section nowadays. I failed to check the name on the day’s schedule, but my guess is that person was a spouse being buried with someone already interred. Having just been a pall bearer myself the previous week, I marveled at the preciseness of the unit coming down the slope more than 50 yards. It’s not as easy as they made it look.
I now know of six family members buried at Arlington. I didn’t know of any until a few years ago. With my family’s long roots in Washington, I expect there are probably more I haven’t yet found. I didn’t know the English brothers, but take pride that they earned the right to be there. And, some pain knowing Harold died on the other side of the world before brought to Arlington.
RIP, my cousins.
Bernard Baruch became wealthy by 1900 speculating in sugar futures on Wall Street. The son of a surgeon that served on Robert E. Lee’s staff during the Civil War, Baruch was considered a kingpin in New York financial circles.
Baruch became President Woodrow Wilson’s advisor on national defense in 1916 and later led U.S. economic moves during World War I. Baruch later advised President Franklin Delano Roosevelt over coordinating private and public financial moves in World War II and was part of the “Brain Trust” during the New Deal.
But the real interesting part of Baruch during his Washington days was a passion for discussing politics from a bench in Lafayette Park next to the Andrew Jackson statue and a short walk to the White House. In 1960, the Boy Scouts honored Baruch with a commemorative bench at his favorite spot. Today, passersby still use the bench. Baruch died in 1965 at age 94.