Jan 1878 - May 1966
|Online tour of Washington, DC|
I got up this morning with the purpose that if I do nothing else today Ill go down to Mount Vernon and see this great American shrine. But on Sundays the sight-seeing bus does not go until in the afternoon at 1:15. So I decide to walk down to the Washington Monument and go up in it. I figured out afterward that the distance from the hotel was a mile and a half the way I went, for I walked through the White House grounds. When I entered the White House grounds from Pennsylvania Avenue I walked slowly down toward the Executive Offices. A policeman was standing there examining a twig of a tree. We good morninged each other, and he answered my inquiry by saying that it was a Japanese beech. It did have certain characteristics of a beech: the bark, the shape generally and the budding leaf; but it had at least three times as many branches as an American beech stuck onto the trunk closely together and coming down close to the ground. The branches were smaller in diameter, I suppose, because of their greater number. A peculiar looking tree, but a beech for all that.
I turn and walk on toward the corner of the White House, for I see people over in front of the building. The policeman said, Do you want to see someone? I was surprised and said, No. That is the kitchen there, he explained. I smiled and backed up and stayed in the driveway. The front of the building is really the rear. For the sake of privacy the living portions of the house are arranged to face the private grounds of the considerable tract of park land on the south side. The grounds are neat, but absolutely not grand or ornate. And I noticed several times that the awnings on the south side look to be several years old, they being faded and streaked.
East Executive Avenue extends between the White House grounds and the Treasury Building. I walked south on East Executive Avenue and looked across at the bronze statue of Alexander Hamilton standing at the south entrance of the treasury, and continued along the curved streets and drives through the public park south of the White House grounds. Numerous groups of young men and boys were playing baseball, or were warming up their pitching and catching.
I found that, from the north,Washington Monument stands on a little hill. The green-grassed area surrounding the Monument is large enough to set it off well. But I see a sign which says the Monument is not opened to the public until 12:30 PM on Sundays. It is 11:30 now and the bus leaves at 1:15 so I must keep going. I recall that the Pan American Building is over there to the west. I find afterward it is a half mile away. On the way I pause and watch two ballgames for awhile.
The Pan American building is in keeping with all of our public buildings here in Washington, architecturally. I mean it is equal to the best. The exhibits constitute a kind of chamber of commerce exhibit for Central America and South America. There is a splendid large relief map, but best is the tropical garden in the patio. Up-stairs there is a grand ball room, or assembly room, and offices. In the passages are busts of South American patriots. Time flies and I must go. Sightseeing makes ones legs ache and the feet to drag. So, I hold up my hand to one of those mosquito taxis and for twenty-five cents I am taken to the hotel.
At 1:15 I look about for the bus, but it turns out to be a seven passenger Packard with a uniformed driver. There are six of us beside the driver. A man and his wife are already in the back seat. There are three women from the hotel and myself. The driver says, Who will ride with me? The ladies hesitate and look around, but finally two of them decide to ride with the driver. They turn out to be mother and daughter. The other woman and myself are put on the jump seats.
Presently the driver turns into Massachusetts Avenue and begins to point out places of interest. This is the private residence where President Coolidge lived while the White House was undergoing repair. This is the Belgian embassy, and the Turkish legation, and so on. This red brick school is the one that Theodore Roosevelts children attended. That cream colored house we are coming to is the residence of Mrs. Alice Roosevelt Longworth. As we pass the house the driver exclaims, And that is Alices car standing there! It seems to be a Ford or a Chevrolet. He might be spoofing us.
We go on and come to an old part of the city which the driver says is Georgetown, and this is Rock Creek Park. There is a creek running down through the Park, which seems to extend for some distance up hill. It seems in part to be unkempt, left sort of wild. I recall that Theodore Roosevelt used to take army officers and visitors out for horseback rides in this Park and wear them out dashing up and down hill, and splashing across the stream, rain or shine. It amused me to think of Teddy doing that. He was a tonic for our country.
|Pierre Charles L'Enfant, 1754-1852, was the French architect and engineer responsible for the design of Washington, D.C.|
That stone house there is the very house in which George Washington and the French artist and architect Le Enfant, (I am not quite sure of the spelling of the Frenchmans name), lived while they surveyed the lines of the District of Columbia.
And here, the driver says, is the Key Memorial bridge, and there, exactly opposite the entrance to the bridge is the house in which Francis Scott Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner. Key did not write the song until some time after the experience which inspired it. That canal there, (and he slows down so we can see) is the old Chesapeake and Ohio canal, which was built very early for the purpose of freighting coal down from Wheeling, West Virginia, and is still in use. I see the old tow path, but they do not use horses or mules now.
|Tammany Hall, a corrupt political machine in New York City.|
We cross the bridge and enter the little town of Rosslyn, Virginia. The driver explains that Rosslyn was a principal slave market before the Civil War, and that no slave could be taken into the District of Columbia unless a Virginia bill of sale could be produced. Looks to me that political racketeering was not invented by Tammany.
Almost at once we enter the grounds of Fort Meyer, where, on the drill field, the Wright Brothers conducted some of their early air-plane experiments. Then we pass on into Arlington National Cemetery. These are the graves of Civil War dead. Those marked with the small square markers bearing only a number are the unknown. The equestrian statue, with the right front foot of the horse lifted, is of General ______. The rule of sculptors is to show the right front foot lifted if the soldier was wounded in battle. If the left front foot is shown lifted, it means he was killed in battle. (Or is it the other way around.) If both front feet are shown down, he came through without wounds. The large monument there is in memory of 2000 unknown Civil War soldiers whose bones are sealed in a vault underneath.
Now we are at the old Lee home, which is in this National Cemetery. I did not know this before, and, of course, am surprised and interested. It is almost ironic, isnt it? We have fifteen minutes to look through this post-colonial homestead. I think it was built after the Revolution. But I do find that Lafayette visited here on his return visit to the United States, in 1824 I believe. There are many rooms and a basement or winter kitchen and wine cellar and storage rooms. Outside is the old well with the iron-bound oaken bucket. There is a separate building where the gardener and the house help slept. The old furniture, or replicas, are in place, including a wooden cradle. There is wood in the fireplace, marked to indicate it has been lighted and partially burned. When we go out on the gallery and I see the immense semi-classic columns I recognize that this is the building I have seen floodlighted at night from Washington. I walk around with the lone lady who is of our party, and we note some of the pictures that members of the Custis family and of the Lee family have intermarried. I recall that Martha Washington was widow Martha Custis when she was married to George Washington, and that she had two children named Custis.
We go on to the new marble amphitheater, which the driver says cost two million dollars, and is used only once each year on Memorial Day, when the President sits in the marble chair and addresses the five thousand people who can be seated on the marble benches, and the two thousand who can stand within the enclosure of the columns.
We pass on through to the tomb of the unknown soldier of the World War. A handsome soldier paces to and fro in a meticulous manner. He does not hurry. And he pauses just the right length of time at each end of his course. Someone has surely worked this out so there apparently is a perfect military rhythm. I call the ladys attention to these evidences of planning and study. There is a long and easy descent of granite steps to the roadway. There is enough time so we do not have to hurry. It is a perfect day in Spring.
The auto comes and we are off to Mount Vernon on the Mount Vernon Memorial Highway. This Highway follows the curves of the Potomac, and the right of way has an irregular but a considerable width. It is partially parked, that is, cleaned up and planted to trees and shrubs where there is not a satisfactory natural growth. When it is several years older it will doubtless be very beautiful. The trees are leafing out, and there is red bud and other flowering native plants. I think I see clumps of May Apples (as we called them when I was a small boy in Kansas) under the trees back from the road.
We come to Alexandria, which was in Washingtons time, and still is, the nearest town to Mount Vernon. Most of it looks old and dilapidated now. Many of these brick buildings were built with brick which was brought over from England as ship ballast. We see the old Church whereof Washington was a vestryman. It is still in use, as is a Presbyterian Church of that time. There is the old dwelling which was used as a military headquarters during the Revolution, and the little two-story brick school house, to the erection of which Washington contributed two hundred dollars. The only thing changed, the driver says, is the outside stairway to the second story. It is still in use for a kindergarten. Now it is situated within the grounds of a larger school.
Out of Alexandria the driver begins to tell us something of the decline of the Mount Vernon Estate after George Washington died. While he was talking a group of cars swept toward us from the front, and the driver paused and exclaimed, There is the President! We were traveling fast; so was the President and his cavalcade. So swish and all was over. It was an open-touring car, with a wind-shield on the back of the front seat, but all the men were holding onto their hats. The man on who I focused my eyes looked like the Presidents picture, but I am not a Graflex [a popular brand of camera] so I cannot be sure it was he.
Mount Vernon is not publicly owned, but is owned by a corporation which was created by an Act of the Virginia Legislature, named, The Mount Vernon Ladies Association of the Union. It seems the original estate consisted of several thousand acres, and after Washingtons death family successors in ownership had to sell off lands from time to time to maintain themselves, until the acreage in connection with the home was reduced to two hundred. There was a great deal of agitation that Congress buy it; also that the State of Virginia buy it; but nothing was accomplished. Evidently the $200,000.00 which John A. Washington asked was considered too high a price to pay. He was roundly criticized and condemned, but he stuck to his price and finally got it from this group of patriotic and idealistic women. The admission charge of twenty-five cents per person is used to maintain the premises. The story of the indefatigable efforts of Miss Ann Pamela Cunningham, of South Carolina, an invalid, over a period of years, and against the prejudice and opposition of men who opposed the interference of women in public affairs, to save Mount Vernon from land speculators, is a stimulating story. One man, Edward Everett, the greatest orator of the 50s, took up the cause of the women and helped them to succeed. I recall that Edward Everett gave a lengthy and grand oration upon the same occasion that President Lincoln gave that brief and very simple address which became thereafter known as Lincolns Gettysburg Address. What strange currents and eddies and lights and shadows there are in life. No one now knows what Edward Everett said that day, but all know what Lincoln said.
But what did I see at Mount Vernon? Too much for mere words. Yes, it is a shrine. It has been restored and is now in a condition, no doubt, like it was when it was at its best. The paved highway will be very beautiful in years to come. The tea room and the curio shop are screened off and are away out of sight. Not yet can I tell what I saw there because I am still experiencing emotions which were put into activity by what I saw and what I remember having read and thought in the past. Maybe some time later I can tell.
An hour is barely time to get around. Then we come back to Washington. The driver is friendly and gets around a back way and we see a part of the cherry trees in bloom -- the double blooms -- for the single bloom trees have already had their brief annual turn before the footlights. Back to the hotel, and I thank my lady companion for a pleasant afternoon and say good-bye. Who was she? Goodness, I dont know. I did not ask her name and I did not tell her mine. The man said he was from Rhode Island and he and his wife had been on a trip to Mount Vernon twenty-five years ago. I suspected they were celebrating their silver wedding anniversary. I told him I was from California and this was my first trip.
Apr 26-28, 1934
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Apr 30, 1934
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