The Declaration of Independence’s Many Homes

This July 4th is the United States’ 239th birthday, which got me thinking a little bit about our country’s birth certificate – the Declaration of Independence.

Everyone knows that the Declaration is stored in Washington, D.C. in the National Archives (assuming you’ve all seen National Treasure). It’s on display along with the Constitution and Bill of Rights under maximum security and with the latest preservation techniques.

But it hasn’t always been a part of the Archives, or so well protected. And it certainly hasn’t been all that stationary.

Festivities in front of the National Archives this July 4th. (Photo: HD)
Festivities in front of the National Archives this July 4th. (Photo: HD)

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The Other Arlington

For most people, commemorating Memorial Day in Washington D.C. brings images of wreath layings at Arlington Cemetery, or the sounds of motorcycles rumbling into town for Rolling Thunder.

But there are some lesser known commemorations in the District that have ties to the founding of Memorial Day itself.

One is the wreath laying at Logan Circle, which honors the Civil War general who helped launch the holiday – originally known as Decoration Day – all the way back in 1868.

Another happens at the United States Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home (USSAH) National Cemetery, located up the hill north of the Petworth neighborhood and next to Lincoln’s Cottage.

It’s one of our oldest national cemeteries, even pre-dating the better known Arlington Cemetery.

USSAH National Cemetery Gates
USSAH National Cemetery Gates

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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.

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Columbus Day in the District

It’s Columbus Day today – and whether you love or loathe the historical figure, he has a pretty significant association with the District.

Namely, our name.

The capital was named by the three commissioners who were appointed by President Washington to prepare and plan the new Federal City. In 1791, they decided it would be called the “Territory of Columbia,” and the “City of Washington.”

They made this choice with a significant anniversary looming – the 300th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s voyage to the New World.

Frieze in the Capitol’s Rotunda showing the landing of Columbus. (Photo: Architect of the Capitol)

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From Rome with Love

So last year around this time, I was in Rome for a conference involving my day job.

The Capitoline Venus had just come to the National Gallery of Art in Washington in honor of our newly minted sister city agreement with Rome, and I was at the Capitoline Museum looking at her empty pedestal.

It seemed like the perfect opportunity to blog about the similarities between our two capitals – and it would be Historic District’s first official field trip.

Unfortunately, the day job took over, and I never got around to blogging.

Well, tempus fugit, and this month I find myself back in the Eternal City.

The difference this time is that I’m purely on vacation, and I’ve made my offering to the blog gods to keep me writing as long as I’m here.

My offering to the blog gods – do try this at home.

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The District’s Titanic Memorial

Until recently, one of the best known associations between the name Titanic and the District was a popular Thai restaurant on 14th Street.

That’s changed a bit this year, as today marks one hundred years since the RMS Titanic’s sinking in the icy waters of the northern Atlantic. Many Washingtonians are discovering that the District has had its own memorial to the Titanic tragedy for more than 80 years.

Even for me, the Titanic memorial was more of a trivia fact about the city’s obscure monuments. I had never actually seen it, since my tours rarely go near its location at the Southwest Waterfront.

But yesterday, I visited it for the first time to attend a ceremony commemorating the centennial of the Titanic’s sinking.

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