On April 28, 1909, a funeral procession nearly a mile long paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue and M Street, complete with fine carriages and a military escort. Throughout Washington, D.C., flags were displayed at half mast, spectators lined the streets, and school children were allowed a break from their studies to glimpse out the window and see it pass by. The man they were there to honor was Major Pierre Charles L’Enfant… who died in 1825.
Before the days of Half Smokes and Jumbo Slices, D.C.’s collective stomach rumbled for a different delicacy: diamondback terrapin. The native turtle had long fed residents of the Chesapeake but by the 1830s the turtle had become one of the region’s most coveted foodstuffs and by the end of the 19th century, swanky eateries from New York to California featured turtle soup on their menus. While turtles from all over the U.S. were used to prepare this famous dish, the Chesapeake Diamondback was undoubtedly the turtle of choice.
“Scan all the annals of Washington base ball as you will – go back to the very inception of the national game – there will be found no day so altogether glorious no paean of victory changed by rooters and fanatics half so sweet as that witnessed yesterday in honor of the opening of the season on 1910.” So read the Washington Post the morning after the Washington Nationals’ 3-0 season-opening victory over the Philadelphia Athletics.
The account may have been a bit rhetorical, but D.C. had reason to be excited, beyond the normal good cheer of baseball’s opening day and the happy result of the game. On April 14, 1910, the city had made history by inaugurating a now-famous tradition: the Presidential first pitch.