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.
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.