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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.