Abraham Lincoln

Dinner and Debates: Boardinghouses of the District

Handy, Levin C, photographer. SE view from dome of U.S. Capitol, showing Carroll Row present site of Library of Congress in left foreground. Washington D.C, ca. 1880. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2005697020/.

Long before the invention of the airplane and a short time before trains were used for commercial transportation, congressmen traveling to Washington for extended periods faced a complicated issue: where would they live in the developing capital city while Congress was in session? Some wealthier members of Congress could purchase private residences or stay with a colleague, but this was not a realistic option for most. The most common solution by far, was to reside in one of the District’s many boardinghouses. Several former presidents, including Abraham Lincoln, found boardinghouses to be a phenomenally sufficient option during their congressional years— for a reasonable fee, a boardinghouse would provide you a room, quality meals, place to work, and lively conversation with fellow residents, many of whom were also politicians. Boardinghouses were scattered throughout the city, but the majority of them were located on Capitol Hill in the area where the Library of Congress stands today.

Razing the Mother Church: The Sale and Destruction of Saint Augustine Catholic Church

Photo of St. Augustine Catholic Church circa 1899.

For seventy years, St. Augustine Catholic Church, at 15th and L St., NW, was the place where Washington's Black Catholics were baptized, married, and laid to rest. Known as "The Mother Church" of Black Catholics, the property was sold to The Washington Post in 1946. The transaction caught many parishioners by surprise and caused a rift with the white leadership of the Archdiocese.

A contemporary engraving of the Garfield assassination (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Witnesses

What do a five-year-old boy, a woman working at a train station and an African American newspaperman have in common? Samuel J. Seymour, Sarah V. E. White and Samuel H. Hatton were little-known Washingtonian witnesses to some of the most influential murders in history: those of U.S. Presidents.

Mary Todd Lincoln with the ghost of Abraham Lincoln behind her

The Legends of Lincoln's Ghost

It makes sense that, of all the ghosts in Washington, Lincoln is the most famous. He’s one of the most noteworthy Presidents, certainly. He lived in the city during a time of great conflict and suffering. He endured his own personal tragedies during his time in office. His family dabbled in the paranormal fads of the day. And, of course, he was shot at Ford’s Theatre, later dying in a makeshift deathbed across the street. The majority of the nation mourned, feeling a collective bereavement that has never quite healed. Altogether, it’s the perfect recipe for an ongoing ghost story.

A General, a Queen, and the President

Tom Thumb, -1883, with wife in wedding costume., 1863. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2005685454/.

February of 1863 saw one of the most anticipated celebrity weddings of its time—after all, what better to provide a momentary distraction from the realities of the Civil War than a little star gossip? The bride and groom were General Tom Thumb (Charles Stratton) and the Queen of Beauty Lavinia Warren, of P.T. Barnum’s American Museum (which would later become Barnum’s Circus) in New York City. At 12:30 p.m. on February 10, 1863 in Manhattan’s Grace Episcopal Church, Tom and Lavinia wed in the presence of an enormous crowd, which spilled out onto Broadway and for many more miles into the City, thanks to Barnum’s extensive publicizing of the event. People across America were fascinated by Barnum’s Tom Thumb and the President of the United States was no exception. The Lincolns were so enthralled by Barnum’s acts that they invited the newlywed Strattons to the White House for a wedding reception just a few days later.

The Dedication of the Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial Dedication Birds Eye

To the average visitor, the Lincoln Memorial appears to be a timeless part of the National Mall. However, this classical commemoration to the sixteenth president was dedicated less than one hundred years ago, in the presence of Civil War veterans, Robert Todd Lincoln, two Presidents and a crowd of thousands. 

John Wilkes Booth

John Wilkes Booth's Abduction Plot Gone Wrong

The story is well known: on April 14, 1865, actor John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theater. Lincoln died the next morning in a boarding house across from the theater. Booth escaped – temporarily -- but was shot 12 days later in Virginia. 

What is lesser known is that Booth did not always plan on killing Lincoln. In fact, the actor’s original plan was not to strike a fatal blow. He wanted to abduct Lincoln, take him to Richmond and exchange him for Confederate soldiers then held in Union prisons.

Ford's Theatre sign. (Credit: Flick user @mr_t_in_dc Licensed via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic)

The Curtain Rises Again at Ford's Theatre

As we’ve discussed previously on this blog, President Abraham Lincoln wasn’t the only victim when he was shot by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865. There were several others who were victimized that night – some hauntingly so. What sometimes gets lost, though, is the impact of the assassination on the theater itself.

Cipriano Ferrandini addresses other members of the Baltimore plot. Image orginally printed in From The Spy of the Rebellion, by Allan Pinkerton, 1883. (Source: Maryland State Archives)

The Thwarted Plot to Kill Lincoln on the Streets of Baltimore

Abraham Lincoln’s election to the presidency on November 6, 1860, was the catalyst for vehement anger in the South, where the wave of secession had already begun to stir. The anger at the president-elect became so great that several conspirators vowed he would never reach the capitol to be inaugurated.

By many accounts, Lincoln was aware but unmoved by the threats that rose around him in early 1861 as he prepared to relocate from his home in Springfield, Illinois to the White House. He planned a grand 2,000-mile whistle-stop tour that would take his train through seventy cities and towns on the way to his inauguration. He was sure to be greeted by thousands of well-wishers, but a more sinister element was also gathering.

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