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.

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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.

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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 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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