Shaw’s Memorial

There have been a lot of significant Civil War anniversaries as we pass through the sesquicentennial (that would be 150 years) of America’s greatest conflict.

Today marks one of those – the failed assault on Fort Wagner by the 54th Massachusetts regiment, one of the first African-American infantry units to fight in the Civil War.

If you’ve seen the movie Glory, then you’re probably familiar with the story and its significance.

But what does that distant battle off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina have to do with Washington, D.C.?

For me, this anniversary hits close to home – literally. I live in D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood, an historically African-American part of the city near U Street.

The neighborhood is named after Colonel Robert Gould Shaw from Boston, who was the commander of the 54th Massachusetts (and played by Matthew Broderick in the movie).

NPR had a story today on the influential Shaw Memorial by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens – an amazing piece of bronze sculpture depicting not only Shaw, but his regiment of soldiers marching out of Boston and off to war.

Shaw Memorial's plaster sculpture at the National Gallery.
Shaw Memorial’s plaster sculpture at the National Gallery.

Continue reading

Advertisements

A Memorial to Memorial Day

Washington, D.C. has always been a special place to commemorate Memorial Day.

There’s the wreath laying and decorating of graves across the river at Arlington Cemetery, the parade down Constitution Avenue, the concert on the Mall, and tributes at the various war memorials. And there’s the omnipresent rumble of motorcycles as Rolling Thunder rides into town.

But if you venture beyond the Mall and into one of the District’s historic neighborhoods, you can pay tribute to the very beginnings of Memorial Day and the man who helped to start it all – General John A. Logan.

IMG_1950
The wreath-laying at Logan Circle

His impressive statue is the centerpiece of Logan Circle, which is probably the most beautiful circle in the city. It’s also one of the most residential, and is more often the site of picnics, dog-walking, and bocce ball than official ceremonies.

But each year on Memorial Day there is a small but meaningful commemoration in the park, with a wreath laying at the base of the statue sponsored by the Logan Circle Community Association, the Illinois State Society of Washington, D.C., and the National Park Service. This year there was an Army Color Guard and a concert by a Marine Corps band.

There were also remarks by one of Logan’s biographers, which probably helped answer the question that even most Washingtonians would have to ask:

Who was General John A. Logan, and what does he have to do with Memorial Day?

Continue reading

Freedom’s Eve at the Archives

Tonight most of us in the District will be spending New Year’s Eve celebrating with a watch party to see the ball drop in Times Square.

Sally Fickland, a former slave, views the Emancipation Proclamation in Philadelphia in 1947.
Sally Fickland, a former slave, views the Emancipation Proclamation in Philadelphia in 1947. (Photo: National Archives)

But every December 31st, there’s another type of watch night gathering – one that commemorates the Emancipation Proclamation going into effect on January 1, 1863.

The very first Watch Night was held around the country on New Year’s Eve 1862, by African Americans and abolitionists waiting to hear word that Abraham Lincoln had signed the Proclamation.

The night was dubbed Freedom’s Eve, and witnessed the first major step toward the abolition of slavery in the United States. It also added a new significance to what had been an end-of-year religious tradition for many Protestant churches by creating a new tradition for African American churches.

This New Year’s Eve, in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the National Archives is joining the festivities and staying up late.

The Archives will be open until 1 AM with the Emancipation Proclamation on display.

Continue reading

Law and Order in the District

When you’re a tour guide in Washington, D.C., you never know what you’ll encounter. Any given day, the nation’s capital plays host to all kinds of groups, protests, parades, and commemorations.

One Sunday a couple of weeks ago, I was guiding a Japanese tour through the city when we encountered a pretty unusual sight in front of the Capitol building. A row of about 25 policemen on horses, lined up across the National Mall.

Police Officers on Horseback

The officers were from all different regions of the country, wearing distinct state uniforms and riding different breeds of horses.

It made a great sight, especially with the statue of Civil War General and President Ulysses S. Grant astride his own horse looming just behind them.

Turns out, it was National Police Week, and that Sunday was Peace Officers Memorial Day.

Continue reading

The White House Easter Egg Roll

Yesterday morning I was at the White House for an historic Washington tradition – the President’s annual Easter Egg Roll.

I went with a good friend and her young son, traipsing through the morning mist along the Ellipse and, after waiting in several lines and security checks, eventually onto the South Lawn.

Attending a White House event these days is a little like a trip to the airport.

South Lawn of the White House in the morning mist
South Lawn of the White House in the morning mist (Photo: Robert Yule)

We followed along as my friend’s son took part in a variety of activities,  starting with the famous Easter Egg Rolling Race itself. The race is a more recent tradition, started in 1974 using spoons from the White House kitchen and eggs hard boiled by White House chefs.

It basically involves pushing an egg with a wooden spoon through the grass to the finish line.

Trust me, not as easy as it sounds.

Continue reading

Lincoln Cottage Conversation with James Swanson

Yesterday – on the anniversary of the day that Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theatre – I found myself back at the Lincoln Cottage for my first Cottage Conversation.

The Lincoln Cottage - 4.14.11
President Lincoln’s Cottage

It’s a fantastic lecture series held upstairs in the historic home where Lincoln and his family regularly stayed during the Civil War, taking refuge from the heat and stress of the city.

As the evening’s speaker pointed out, Lincoln’s last stay at the cottage was on April 13, a peaceful day before that fateful trip to Ford’s the next night.

Continue reading