The Conspirator Theories

The Conspirator Movie Poster
The Conspirator Movie Poster

So I just saw the movie The Conspirator last night, opening in the District on the same day that Abraham Lincoln died – April 15, 146 years ago.

I missed the red carpet premiere at Ford’s Theatre last week – complete with director Robert Redford and all the movie’s stars, including Robin Wright, James McAvoy, and Kevin Cline.

But I did get to see the film just three blocks from Ford’s Theatre, where the 16th president was shot on April 14.

And I was just one block away from the boarding house of one of the alleged conspirators, Mary Surratt, whose trial is the subject of the film.

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A Farewell to Arms in the District

Frank Buckles
Frank Buckles was only 16 when he bluffed his way into the U.S. Army and World War I.

Yesterday, World War I officially became history for Americans when the last doughboy was buried across the river at Arlington National Cemetery.

Frank Woodruff Buckles died at his home in West Virginia on February 28 at the age of 110 – one of the last three known living veterans of the Great War (the two remaining are a man in Australia and a woman in Britain).

Hundreds of Washingtonians and visitors paid tribute to him by visiting the National World War I Memorial on the Mall, shuffling through the Capitol Rotunda to see his flag-draped coffin, and attending a solemn ceremony at Arlington as he was laid to rest.

Okay, so only one out of three of those things actually happened.

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Mr. Lincoln Comes to Washington (Again)

I was standing in the cold on the platform of Union Station yesterday, waiting expectantly with camera in hand for the president to arrive.  The 11:21 AM train had just pulled in and was emptied of people, but its most important passenger was still on board.

A small cluster of Amtrak officials and security guards stood nearby. I recognized Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, as he walked by (such is the nature of our celebrities in the District). He was escorted into the train by National Park Service rangers to officially welcome the president to Washington.

Abraham Lincoln at Amtrak in Washington, D.C.
Lincoln meets and greets at the Amtrak terminal in Union Station. (Photo: Robert Yule)

Eventually I saw an entourage of police, officials, reporters, and photographers emerge from the car and walk toward me on the platform, all surrounding the District’s most important new resident. Finally, he came into view. The former senator from Illinois was taller than I expected, but I couldn’t yet see his face.

What I saw first was the top of his stovepipe hat.

Then I saw the long face, the hollow cheeks, the short beard. There was no mistaking it – Mr. Lincoln had arrived (again) in the District.

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The Lost (and Found) Library of Thomas Jefferson

It’s not often that the discovery of a collection of rare books makes national news – but when those books are Thomas Jefferson’s, even the Today Show takes notice.

This morning – on President’s Day – there was an announcement on the NBC news program that a large number of books belonging to our third president were discovered among the collections of Washington University in St. Louis.

That makes the university the third largest holder of Jefferson’s surviving book collection, after the Library of Congress in the District, and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

After a bit of sleuthing, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation – located at Jefferson’s home Monticello in Charlottesville – discovered 74 of those books at Washington University’s library. They had been donated in 1880 from the collection of a husband of one of Jefferson’s granddaughters, but lost to historians for 130 years.

It turns out that they took a circuitous route there – from Charlottesville to Washington, D.C. to Boston, and finally to St. Louis. Missouri was a fitting repository for the collection – it was part of the territory in the Louisiana Purchase bought by Jefferson during his presidency.

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The District’s Rosa Parks

An African-American woman tries to sit in a seat on public transportation implicitly reserved for whites only. She refuses to get up when ordered to move, and is forcibly evicted by the police.

Her case draws national attention, and eventually causes the Supreme Court to confront the issue of racial segregation.

Rosa Parks, by Marshall D. Rumbaugh, 1983
Rosa Parks by Marshall D. Rumbaugh at The National Portrait Gallery

If you’re thinking of Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama, you’re about a hundred years too late.

I’m talking about Kate Brown, a resident of the District, who in 1868 refused to leave the car reserved for white ladies in a train bound for Washington.

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The Gipper Turns 100

Today would have been Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday.

Which got me thinking about how the District commemorates its presidents – this one in particular.

As a child of the Eighties, the first president I could remember was Reagan. In fact, seeing my mom watch the coverage of the assassination attempt on Reagan in 1981 was the first time I learned what a president was.

Before I was politically aware, it was like having a kindly grandfather in the White House – similar to the Werther’s Original guy, except with jellybeans.

Of course, no president can be honored in Washington, D.C. without politics entering the equation, particularly an iconic Republican in a town that overwhelmingly votes Democratic.

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A Big Apple Inaugural

So I found myself wandering the wind-blown streets of lower Manhattan this past weekend, searching for traces of the nation’s first federal capital.

It might seem a little early for a field trip in this blog about historic Washington, D.C., but my flight back from South Africa brought me through JFK, and I decided to make a weekend of it.

New York City’s Federal Hall, our first Capitol.

Here’s the question I wanted to investigate: How much does the Big Apple celebrate its capital heritage?

Short answer: Not much.

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