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100 Years Ago: June 1923


This is the 101st entry in my series of posts about one-hundred-year-old National Geographic Magazines.



The first article in this “Nation’s Capital” issue is entitled “The Transformation of Washington” and was written by Charles Moore, Chairman of the Commission of Fine Arts.  It has the internal subtitle: “A Glance at the History and Along the Vista of the Future of the Nation’s Capital.”  The article contains sixteen black-and-white photographs with fourteen of those photos being full-page in size.  The article also contains two sketch maps – the first is a full-page map of Washington D. C. on page 574, and the second is a full-page map of the Mall and its surroundings on page 576.  I should note that these two sketch maps are a part of an ongoing series of maps of Washington and the Mall that occur repeatedly throughout the history of the magazine’s publication including foldouts and perforated poster supplements.

Sketch Map courtesy of Philip Riviere

Sketch Map courtesy of Philip Riviere

Eight cities in four different States sheltered the Continental Congress and its successor, the Congress of the Confederation.  Driven from Philadelphia to Princeton by a mob of mutineer soldiers, Congress determined to create a capital under its own control.  That determination found expression in the Constitution, which provided that the Congress shall have the power “to exercise exclusive jurisdiction in all cases whatsoever, over such district (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of government of the United States.”  In 1790, as a result of bargaining by Alexander Hamilton at a dinner arranged for the purpose by Thomas Jefferson, the seat of Congress was fixed for ten years at Philadelphia, and after that time permanently on the Potomac.  Congress, having charged President Washington with selecting the exact boundaries of the Federal District within which the capital city should be located, Maryland and Virginia ceded to the General Government jurisdiction over the territory so selected, including the Maryland city of Georgetown and the Virginia town of Alexandria.  The lands for which Washington bargained, wholly on the Maryland shore, stretched four and a half miles from east to west and two and a half miles from south to north, about the size of Paris.  In 1789, Major Pierre Charles L’Enfant applied to Washington to be appointed to design the Federal City, and was selected for the task.  He had successfully remodeled the New York City Hall, making it the most beautiful building in America.  It was in that building Washington was inaugurated as President, and there the first Congress of the United States held its sessions.  L’Enfant’s plan was based on the plan for the French capital city of Versailles, with its focal points, radial avenues, water effects, and such disposition of public buildings in which every part had organic relations with every other part.

He proceeded to do his task in a manner at once so comprehensive and so fine that his plan remained to this day [in 1923] not alone a fulfilment of his dream, but also a prophecy and a guide for the future.  Washington believed firmly that the Potomac River was the future highway to the Ohio country.  Both he and Jefferson were convinced that Alexandria was destined to become one of the great commercial cities of the U. S.  The prosperity the capital would share by reason of proximity.  After Washington’s death the steam railroad came to change the currents of traffic and to create other channels of trade.  The growth and development of the Federal City, therefore, came to depend on causes inhering in the fact that it was the permanent seat of government.  While L’Enfant was struggling with his grand plan, William Thornton was building the Capitol and James Hoban was working on the White House.  Those two buildings were the chief focal centers of the L’Enfant plan; from them the main avenues radiated.  In scale and design, they surpassed any structures in the land.  Based on classic precedents, excellent in their mass and proportions, they embodied a simple dignity and substantial elegance.  The generations that had come and gone since those early days had never been able to surpass either the plan of the city or the designs of those two buildings which preeminently represented the power and simplicity of the Republic.  The private response to the grand public initiative, however, was slow and halting.  Washington took the lead by erecting at his own expense three houses for accommodating members of Congress, buying land on the Anacostia side for commercial use, and built a residence for himself on a square of ground near Rock Creek – a project prevented by his death in 1799.  During the summer of 1800 the entire force of government clerks, 123 in number, domiciled themselves in Washington, as the Federal City came to be called.  President and Mrs. Adams arrived in November.

By 1814 Washington was a city of 8,000 people, with streets so ill defined as to resemble footpaths.  John Armstrong, Secretary of War, opined that the city was not worth invasion by the British, but the British decided capturing a nation’s capital worthwhile.  Against trained soldiers and sailors President Madison’s militia was of no avail.  On August 24 the Capitol was burned.  The White House, Treasury, and long bridge across the Potomac were also destroyed.  Chagrin and pride stimulated the rebuilding.  Congress was accommodated in a building hastily erected by private subscriptions of landowners.  That building, used during the Civil War as the “Old Capitol Prison,” was, in 1923, the headquarters of the Woman’s Party.  The Capitol was rebuilt according to the original design.  Four other public buildings representing the period before the Civil War stood as monuments to dignity and good taste – the Courthouse on Judiciary Square; the Patent Office; the Old Post Office; and the Treasury.  During the first half century the Capitol became outgrown.  President Fillmore was authorized to select an architect to plan extensions to the original building.  He chose Thomas U. Walter.  Mr. Walter wrought the Capitol dome in form so satisfactory that it had taken its place among the half dozen great domes of the world.  When civil war came the dome was just springing into shape.  President Lincoln commanded that work on it should not stop but be carried on continuously throughout the struggle.  By 1846 the citizens of Alexandria and the Virginia side of the Potomac persuaded Congress to allow them to vote themselves back into Virginia.  Thus, three miles square were lopped off the District of Columbia.  The war over, President Grant entered upon the task of making a modern city of the struggling village.  Between 1874 and 1878 a form of government for the District was devised and set in motion.  Various items received needed attention – water supply, sewage, street extensions, railway terminals, hospitals, etc.

In the Library of Congress, completed in 1897, the people of the U. S. had found satisfaction.  Thousands of visitors came to it daily, not only to use the facilities, but also to enjoy the display of its treasures, and to admire the sculpture and mural paintings.  The government was constantly expanding creating a demand for public buildings, as well as homes for clerks.  During the first half century of the Republic the plan prepared by L’Enfant had been followed or superseded.  After the passing of John Quincy Adams, the authority of the plan dwindled into vague suggestion.  The grand plaza and approach to the Capitol from the west had been turned into a garden for plants brought home by the Wilkes Expedition of 1838; the Smithsonian Institute had been constructed on the Mall; and what had been planned as a parkway between Capitol and White House was cut up into squares developed individually.  The monument to Washington, finely located by L’Enfant at the crossing of the axis of the Capitol with the Axis of the White House, was begun at a point related to neither axis.  Worst of all, a railroad had been built across the Mall, and a single driveway crossed the tracks by a narrow wooden bridge.  To check the creation of misfit subdivisions, Congress provided that the system of streets and avenues of the old city should extend throughout the District.  1900 was the centennial of the District becoming the seat of government.  At an executive session of the Senate, in March 1901, Senator McMillan, of Michigan, secured the passage of a resolution to form a committee to plan for the improvement of the park system of the District.  Experts were consulted, plans drawn up, objections were made, but in the end his vision came to fruition.  The railway tracks were removed from the Mall and the park connection between the Capitol and the White House was restored.  Pennsylvania Railroad agreed to its removal and the building of a Union Station north of the Capitol.

Had the Senate Park Commission accomplished no other result than the removal of the railroad tracks from the Mall, it would have justified its creation.  Next to the railroad removal, the biggest problem was to bring the Washington Monument into proper relations.  This the Commission accomplished by drawing a line from the dome of the Capitol to the Monument and relating to this new axis all future buildings and plantings in the Mall.  The plan was tested with the construction of a building for the Department of Agriculture.  Opponents of the plan proposed a site which broke the template.  President Roosevelt, instigated by the Secretary of War, Mr. Taft, ordered work stopped and the building be relocated according to the plan.  Subsequently the new National Museum and the Freer Gallery of Art were located parallel to the Commission axis, and thus the lines were fixed permanently.  The next problem to solve was the location of the monument to Abraham Lincoln.  The site chosen was in an area, nearly a mile in length, reclaimed from the malarial flats along the Potomac.  President Roosevelt appointed a large body of architects, but Congress, resenting an invasion of their prerogatives. Abolished it.  Congress, at President Taft’s insistence, established a permanent commission of seven to advise the President or either house of Congress.  It was appointed May 17, 1910.  One of the first questions submitted to the Commission of Fine Arts was the location of the Lincoln Memorial.  Its report favored adhering to the site selected by the Senate Commission in 1901.  There was still opposition but, in the end, the plan won.  Many battles had been fought and won during the twenty-one years since the plan was published, the latest being over the location of the Memorial Bridge planned to connect the Lincoln Memorial with the Arlington National Cemetery.  President Harding and the Bridge Commission decided to adhere to the planned location.  Thus, again the plan was saved from mutilation.

During the century and a quarter of its existence, the District of Columbia had grown in population from nothing to a half million; at the present [in 1923] rate of growth would soon reach the million mark.  Moreover, the governmental functions were being performed largely in either rented or temporary buildings, which should be replaced by permanent structures, so located and so constructed as to comport with the power and dignity of the nation and to enhance the attractiveness of the national capital.  Changes, therefore, were bound to come.  To finish projects already begun would require considerable expenditures of money and thought.  When the old city outgrew its boundaries, no provision was made for small parks.  Instead, Congress created along Rock Creek (and now in the heart of the city) a naturalistic woodland park of rare charm and beauty, and had undertaken to make a parkway connection with Potomac Park.  The purchase of lands on either side of the creek was in progress.  On the east, the malarial marshes of the Anacostia were being converted into a water park.  Those two east and west parks were to be connected along the Potomac River by a boulevard for pleasure and traffic.  On the crest of the hill overlooking Washington, Meridian Hill Park was slowly developing after the manner of an Italian garden.  Congress was acquiring land between the Capitol and Union Station but purchases were stopped when half completed and had not resumed, leaving unsightly conditions to confront the visitor on his arrival.   Along the Virginia shore a series of areas was being developed by dredging to improve river channels.  If those reclaimed lands were treated as pleasure grounds, then the Potomac would flow through parks from the Great Falls to Alexandria.

Pennsylvania Avenue, the main connection between Capitol and White House, was occupied along the south side by laundries, cheap lodging-houses, and shops of the meanest character.  Congress started the cleaning up of that area by the purchase of the squares between 14th and 15th Streets and the erection thereon of buildings for the Departments of Justice, Commerce and Labor (then undivided), and State.  In 1923 they had not been built, and the squares were occupied by a theater, a hotel, and a motley array of miscellaneous structures.  Temporary war buildings, hastily built, still occupied the Mall between the Washington Monument and the Capitol.  There was something ironic in the fact that during all the years of its existence this government never had had a place for the safekeeping and consultation of its archives.  Nor is it a credit to our feelings for the humanities that the National Gallery of Art was without a home of its own.  It was true that the Freer Gallery, only just opened, represented the largest gift ever made by an individual to the government.  It offered unsurpassed facilities to study the art of the Far East.  With the vast accumulations of books, prints, manuscripts, and music in the Library of Congress, Washington should be a leading center of intellectual life in all its phases.  Each year adds some new feature and at the same time suggests new vistas into the future.  In comparing Washington with the capitals of other nations, one dwelt upon the far-reaching expanses of the Potomac; One recognized the grandeur of the central composition, the Capitol, the Mall, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial; and one acknowledged that the founders of the Republic had the wisdom and taste, and faith and vision, to plan wisely and nobly; that their successors in large measure had realized the dreams of the fathers; and that there remained work to be done in carrying on to future generations the heritage from the past.



The second article in this month’s issue is entitled “The Lincoln Memorial” and was written by William Howard Taft, Chief Justice of the United States.  The article contains five black-and-white photographs, of which three are full-page in size.  One of those full-page photos serves as the frontispiece for this article.  The text is an address delivered by Mr. Taft as Chairman of the Lincoln Memorial Commission at the presentation of the completed Memorial to the President of the United States, May 30, 1922.

The American people had waited fifty-seven years for a national memorial to Abraham Lincoln.  Those years had faded the figures of his contemporaries, and he stood grandly alone.  His life and character in the calmer and juster [sic] vista of half a century inspired a higher conception of what was suitable to commemorate him.  Justice, truth, patience, mercy, and love of his kind; simplicity, courage, sacrifice, and confidence in God, were his moral qualities.  Clarity of thought and intellectual honesty, self-analysis and strong inexorable logic, and supreme common sense – those were his intellectual and cultural traits.  His soul and heart and brain and mind had all those elements, but their union in him had a setting that baffled description.  We felt a closer touch with him than with living men.  The influence he still wielded had a Christlike character.  It had spread to the four corners of the globe.  The oppressed and lowly of all peoples, as liberty and free government spread, pronounced his name with awe.  The harmony of his message with every popular aspiration for freedom proved his universality.  His own life without favoring chance in preparation for the task which Providence was to put on him, his early humble surroundings, his touch with the soil, his oneness with the plain people, and the wonder that out of those he could become what he was, gave us a soul-stirring pride that the world had come to know him and love him as we do.  The aura about Lincoln’s head at his death grew into a halo of living light.  Therefore, it was well that half a century should pass before his people’s national tribute to him took form in marble, that it should wait until a generation instinct with the growing and deepening perception of the real Lincoln had had time to develop an art adequate to the expression of his greatness.

The years immediately following the Civil War were not favorable to art, and the remains of that period in our Capital City and elsewhere showed it.  But new impulses in the expansion of our country’s energies were soon directed toward better things.  Our expositions had marked the steps in that progress in architecture and sculpture.  For fifteen years following the Centennial at Philadelphia, the nucleus began there grew until at the Columbian Exposition at Chicago, in 1892 and 1893, there were gathered a group of artists whose works were the peers of any.  In 1894 they organized the American Academy in Rome for the graduate education of American students to study that reservoir of Greek art.  In 1901 a commission was appointed to bridge over the period since Washington and L’Enfant’s plan for the capital, and on the basis of that plan to enlarge and give greater scope to the beauty of that seat of government.  As a new feature in that plan a monument crowning the rond-point to the memory of Lincoln.  The Commission planned a great portico of Doric columns rising from an unbroken stylobate.  That portico would afford views of the river and eastward toward the Capitol; and it would bear an inscription taken from one of his speeches.  Not until 1911 was the idea carried forward.  A bill created the present Commission, under whom the work was carried out.  For ten years the structure had been rising.  From solid rock beneath the level of the Potomac, 50 feet below the original grade, it reached a total of 122 feet above the grade.  The platform at its base was 204 feet long and 134 feet wide.  The colonnade was 188 feet long and 118 feet wide, the columns 44 feet high and 7 feet 5 inches in diameter at their base.  The memorial hall was 156 feet long and 84 feet wide.  The outside columns were the simple Doric, the inside columns the simple Ionic.  The marble of the structure was from the Colorado Yule mine, remarkable for its texture and the purity of its white.

The colossal figure of the Beloved in Georgia marble, the work of Daniel Chester French, one of our greatest sculptors, filled the memorial hall with an overwhelming sense of Lincoln’s presence, while the mural decorations of another great American artist, Jules Guerin, with their all-embracing allegory, crowned the whole sacred place.  The site was at the end of the axis of the Mall, the commanding and noteworthy spine of L’Enfant’s plan.  Burnham, McKim, and Saint-Gaudens, who followed that plan to its triumph, took the Mall under their protection.  It was they who struggled against encroachments upon that capital feature of our wonderful seat of government.  It was they who put this noble structure we   celebrate today (May, 30, 1922), where it is.  They sought the judgement of John Hay, biographer of Lincoln.  He answered: “The place to honor Lincoln is on the main axis of the plan.”  The ideal of those great American artists had found in the memorial.  It was a magnificent gem set in a lovely valley between hills, commanding them by its isolation.  There, on the banks of the Potomac, the boundary between the two sections whose conflict made the burden, passion, and triumph of his life, it was peculiarly appropriate that it should stand.  Visible in its distant beauty from the Capitol; seen in all its grandeur from Arlington, it marked the restoration of the brotherly love of the two sections in this memorial of one who was as dear to the hearts of the South as to those of the North.  Rancor and resentment were no part of his nature.  In all the bitterness of that conflict, tried as he was, no word fell from his lips which told of hatred, malice, or unforgiving soul.  Here was a shrine that all could worship.  Here an altar upon which the sacrifice was made in the cause of Liberty.  Here a sacred religious refuge in which those who love country and love God can find inspiration and repose.



The third article in this month’s issue continues the tour of our nation’s capital.  It is entitled “The Capitol, Wonder Building of the World” and was written by Gilbert Grosvenor, Editor of the National Geographic Magazine.  The article contains seventeen black-and-white photographs, of which nine are full-page in size.

The United States Capitol was the wonder building of the world.  Others there were which were larger, taller, older, or more ornate, though not more beautiful, or impressive to the eyes of an American.  There was none other wherein was exercised such tremendous power, which so completely enfolded the pages of a nation’s history, where so many great men had hallowed its halls by their presence.  The humblest citizen may walk without formality to the center of its spacious Rotunda.  Standing in the center and looking south, he saw the door to the House of Representatives; while facing north, the door to the Senate presented itself.  And from the center of the Rotunda, if the doors were open, and the chambers in session, he would see the Speaker of the House and the Vice-President presiding over their respective chambers.  If he stood there at two minutes before noon, he would see the members of the Supreme Court of the U. S., led by the Chief Justice, crossing the corridor from their robing room to the Court Chamber.  Facing east, he may look out upon the portico where Presidents stood, at inauguration, to take the oath to uphold the Constitution.  Upon that single spot the citizen had seen his government.  All the rest was but elaborations of its threefold parts.  Each voting citizen cast ballots that bore upon laws made and construed in that building; his economic and legal life was profoundly affected by the legislation enacted, interpreted, and sometimes signed here by the Executive.  The Capitol was built on a hill which L’Enfant described as a natural pedestal awaiting its monument.  Overlooking the vast amphitheater formed by the environing hills of Maryland, which rimmed a gigantic open horseshoe whose base was the Potomac, it commanded every landscape and gladdened ten thousand views of the city.  Its building began in 1792, eight years before the national government’s effects were brought there from Philadelphia in a packet boat.  Ever since, its construction had progressed; it was not completed yet.

During the darkest hours of the Civil War, while its basement did service as a military bakery, Lincoln insisted that there be no suspension of the building of the dome.  When hearing of a plot to burn the flour mills in Georgetown, the flour was stored safely in the Capitol’s vast cellars.  In 1923, the verist layman paused, as he climbed the steps, one for every day of the year, to its lofty platform, to admire the engineering skill which bolted, girded, clamped, and trussed the two mammoth metal shells that formed the majestic inverted bowl.  Aloft the mechanics were forgotten in the beauty of the panorama of the city, the river, and the Virginia hills beyond.  From that vantage point the visitor looked down upon the main axis of the city’s artistic development, past Grant’s Memorial, across the restful green Mall, to the sky-piercing shaft erected to the memory of Washington, and thence to the imposing Lincoln Memorial, with the Amphitheater-crowned heights of Arlington in the background.  It was an awesome thought to walk through the Rotunda knowing that nearly 9,000,000 pounds of metal were hanging over one’s head.  To protect it from rust, it took 4,300 pounds of paint and 35 men working three months each time the dome needed a new coat.  The bronze figure which surmounted the dome alone weighed 15,000 pounds and was 3½ times as tall as an average man.  It is a statue of Freedom, typifying armed liberty by its helmet and breastplate.  That representation seemed appropriate when it was put in place in 1863.  In an older portion of the Capitol was a room which held more historic associations than any other chamber in America.  Statuary Hall was the room where the House of Representatives met for 40 years.  Here Lincoln, John Quincy Adams, and Andrew Johnson served in the same Congress.  Here Henry Clay welcomed Lafayette.  Here John Marshal administered the oath of office to Madison and Monroe.

When, in 1825, the House balloted in that room for President, John Quincy Adams won over Andrew Jackson.  Adams was stricken with paralysis suddenly after delivering an impassioned speech.  Later, Jackson narrowly escaped assassination upon leaving that room, where he had attended the funeral of a congressional friend.  A bronze star marked the location of Adams desk.  The star happens also to denote a spot where one may hear the whisper of a friend who stood in the corresponding position on the opposite side of the hall.  Move away from the spot and the speaker’s voice failed to carry, even when he spoke loudly.  Closed to visitors now [in 1923] was the narrow gallery of the Old House, reached by dark, tortuous steps, worn deep by the tread of many feet.  In that gallery Dickens gleaned notes for his comments on America’s Congress.  He called Washington “a city of magnificent intentions.”  For some years religious services were held in the old Hall of Representatives on Sunday afternoons; Lincoln attended them during the war period, when the hall was crowded because many churches had been converted to barracks.  The floor of that room was raised when the hall was converted into an American Westminster Abbey.  Tradition had it that the lower level of the old floor led to the popular designation of the House of Representatives as the “Lower House.”  When the old hall was deserted for the new, a law was enacted, in 1864, providing that the States could use it as a place to do national honor to the memory of their sons and daughters renowned for civil and military service, each State being entitled to place two statues there.  Rhode Island was the first to respond, followed by Pennsylvania and Florida.  Frances E. Willard was the only woman so far honored.  Oklahoma sent a statue of an Indian Chief, Sequoyah.  [The author provides a complete list of statues from Alabama to Wisconsin.]

One other room in the Capitol, that was in 1923 occupied by the U. S. Supreme Court, might challenge the claim of Statuary Hall to preeminence in long historic association.  Around the chamber were busts of the Chief Justices since the time of John Jay.  For some years employees would not go in that room after nightfall.  They said it was haunted.  Investigation disclosed that a suspended light outside was swung by a breeze, and the play of shadows gave the statues the semblance of bowing, as they were reported to have done.  To every American that room was haunted – haunted by the memory of Clay, Calhoun, and Webster, giants of the days when the Senate met there.  Those walls heard Webster’s immortal reply to Hayne, Jefferson’s second inaugural, and Clay’s two farewell addresses.  There was confirmed the treaty with Napoleon by which this country’s acquired the territory included in the Louisiana Purchase.  There was proclaimed the Monroe Doctrine.  There, too, sat the Electoral Commission that averted civil war by declaring Hayes elected by one vote.  The Senate began sitting in that chamber immediately upon the transfer of government in 1800; for a time, the House occupied a room in that wing; later it was housed in a temporary brick building about where Statutory Hall stood in 1923.  Since 1860, the Supreme Court had sat in there, and recently former President, William Howard Taft was named Chief Justice.  Under the Rotunda was a chamber, now bare, circled by severe Doric columns, and beneath the center – an empty tomb.  Congress requested that Washington’s remained be enshrined there, but Washington wished to be buried at home in Mount Vernon.  The crypt, located on the ground floor of the Capitol, was in the center of a corridor which ran the length of the Capitol, almost 750 feet, thus forming what was reputed to be the longest passageway of any building in the world.

Below the ground floor was a part of the Capitol closed to visitors, honeycombed with shops, stores, ducts, and corridors.  One of the corridors was like a busy street in Tunis, in that it was shut off from the light of day, though its activities were far more modern.  There was a machine shop, a plumbers’ shop, a carpenter shop with lathes and sawing-machines, and a paint shop.  There were supply-rooms.  An array of electrical equipment was kept on hand to replace parts of motors, fans, lights, and voice amplifiers.  A gardener had tools to care for some 225 kinds of trees planted on the Capitol grounds, for those 58 acres form an arboretum, with trees from China, Persia, Japan, and Caucasus.  A power plant five blocks away furnished current for the Capitol.  That power ran 49 elevators and lifts, and 49,750 light bulbs in the Capitol group, a dishwasher, potato peelers, a refrigerator, and even pencil sharpeners had been motorized.  A single 14-inch pipe conveyed steam from the plant to the House Office Building, then to the Capitol and Library, and to the Senate Office Building.  Beneath the main floor was an air chamber from three to five feet deep.  Overhead was another chamber, where thousands of electric bulbs diffused a soft light through the ceiling panels of glass.  From that upper chamber air was constantly being pumped.  Far beneath the offices and public corridors of the Capitol was its “hold.”  There, an engineer sat who could ascertain the temperature of any part of the building.  From the west terraces great ducts afford inlet for streams of fresh air.  Huge electric fans, 12 feet in diameter, drove air through 10,000 feet of steam coils providing heat for the chamber of the House.  A condenser maintained proper humidity, and the air passed through an ozonator [sic] on its way through the duct.  Finally, the shaft reached the chamber which extended under the entire floor space of the House.  There it diffused and swept up through scores of vents in the vertical parts of the steps of the tiers of seats, and along the walls of the room.

The glass panels which formed the House ceiling, each with a coat of arms of a State, were raised about three inches above their frames at each end to allow the heated air to escape.  That foul air was then pumped out of the chamber above.  Thus, streams of pure air, heated to 70 degrees, continuously flowed into the hall, and seeped out again.  The fans below had six speeds.  When the hall was crowded the motors were thrown into “high” and the whole process was accelerated.  Essentially the same method was employed in the Senate.  That pumping went on winter and summer alike; for problems of heating and ventilation were allied.  The Capitol, the Library of Congress, and the House and Senate

 Office Buildings were part of the Capitol unit.  The Library was not a public library but, as the name implied, was the working library for members of Congress.  Subways connected the Capitol with its two massive office buildings; that to the Senate had an electric conveyance, Washington’s only subway.  Members of the House had to walk.  An electric conveyor delivered to the Capitol books ordered by members from the Library of Congress.  The scene from the steps of the main portico of the Capitol enkindled patriotism.  One beheld the greatest legislative group in the world, the Senate and House Office Buildings to his left and right respectively and the Library of Congress in front of him.  Amid the glamor of history, some were prone to discount the achievements of the present.  But the students of the past knew that history went forth in every age.  The men who in 1923 were making history may one day have their effigies in bronze and marble in Statuary Hall as comrades in glory with the Founders and Preservers of the Republic.



The fourth item listed on the cover of this month’s issue id entitled “Washington, the Pride of the Nation” and has Charles Martin listed in the byline.  It is, however, not and article and Mr. Martin is not the author.  It is a set of “16 Full-Page Autochromes” as documented on the cover.  These are true color photographs, not colorized black-and-white photos, and Mr. Martin is the photographer.  These full-page color photos are displayed on plates numbered I through XVI in Roman numerals and represent pages 617 through 632 of the issue.  They are embedded within the third article but are not counted as part of that article’s illustrations.

Here is a list of the caption titles of these autochromes:

  • “The Mosaic of Minerva at the Head of the Main Marble Stairs of the Library of Congress”
  • “The Home of the President”
  • “The Most Majestic Building of the New World”
  • “A Glimpse of Washington from Arlington National Cemetery”
  • “The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier”
  • “The Nation’s Tribute to Grant”
  • “Midsummer in Washington’s Botanical Gardens”
  • “A Monument to a Healer of Human Ills”
  • “The Patio of the Pan American Union”
  • “A Natural Pedestal with Its Monument”
  • “The Library of Congress, Repository of Man’s Imperishable Gifts to Posterity”
  • “A Glimpse of the Washington Monument from the Gardens of the Pan American Union”
  • “A God of Prehistoric America Surveys the Passing Centuries in the Pan American Gardens”
  • “Rock Creek Park in Autumn”
  • “The Peacock Room in the Freer Gallery of Art”
  • “The United States Capitol and Its Plaza”



The fourth and final article in this month’s issue is, surprise surprise, about our nation’s capital.  It is entitled “The Source of Washington’s Charm” and was written by J. R. Hildebrand, author of “The Geography of Games” in the National Geographic Magazine.  The article contains forty-six black-and-white photographs with sixteen of those photos being full-page in size.

During the World War, European statesmen, and occasional kings and princes, visited America and, during interviews, were asked one question: “What do you think of Washington?”  They disagreed upon nearly every other topic – economic, political, and social; but the each agreed that Washington had “charm.”  One statesman, who was also a philosopher, was asked: “What do you mean by charm?”  He replied with a question: “Why is a rainbow beautiful?  Of course, you can pick out its different colors; but separately, they won’t tell you the whole story.”  There, at least, was a starting point.  Picking out some of the colors of rainbow Washington, one began to find many things that made it different from other American cities and from other world capitals.  A stroll through Rock Creek Park after turning off stately upper Sixteenth Street was like stepping off Fifth Avenue into the Maine woods.  The dignity and beauty of its public buildings, its broad, tree-bowered streets, the very magnificence of its distances, along with its incomparable natural setting – those made for the charm of Washington.  Yet there were other attributes – the charm of the unexpected, the things that could happen nowhere else except in Washington – which contributed to the eternal fascination of our National Capital.  “See Mecca and die” was the prayer of the Moslem.  “Let us go to Washington and live” seemed to be the fervent aspiration of more and more Americans.  And the rest of the world, it seemed, wished to visit it.  There was an intellectual charm about Washington which arose from the fact that there lived experts on nearly every subject human genius had explored.  From the Astrophysical Observatory down through the scientific alphabet to the Zoological Park ran the city’s gamut of institutions and authorities, whether your hobby was ballistics, conchology, geography, hydraulics, or taxation.  Constantly the city garnered more and more of those experts, coming to associate themselves with scientific establishments.

Washington had a major industry outside the scope of the U. S. Census.  That industry was the exportation of words.  The courts had ruled news a commodity.   The mere physical transmission of the 500,000 words Washington news-gatherers sent out daily by wire, wireless, and mail was no mean industry.  Practically all the 2,455 daily newspapers in the U. S. were represented in Washington, singly and in groups, by correspondents, press associations, and syndicates.  That made for another group of men peculiar to Washington – a group which comprised hundreds of the best correspondents, writers, and news-gatherers in the country.  Their significance in our national life was one story – Viscount Bryce discussed in his “Modern Democracies” – for they transmitted the raw material which voters from 48 States utilized in their ballot-box verdicts upon their government and their representatives in Congress.  Their distinctive contribution to Washington’s life was another story.  Their numbers made up the membership of two unique institutions, the Gridiron Club, and the National Press Club.  In the rooms of the National Press Club, Presidents, Princes, and others had been honored guests.  At the Gridiron Club’s famous dinners, with guest lists reading like a Who’s Who of Fame, the paradoxical rule was, “ladies always are present and reporters never.”  A third club “which could only happen in Washington” was the Army and Navy Club.  In peace time, without their uniforms, men traversed Washington streets often unrecognized by the crowds.  Attendants of its luncheon gatherings included the generals and admirals, the engineers and other technicians who constituted the “thinking arm” of the military service in time when, as never before, trained men’s brain power constituted our first line of national defense.

It was characteristic of Washington to reveal its picturesque qualities to the casual visitor.  Its most interesting sights and scenes required no special invitation.  The author presented a series of vignettes of his short stroll along Sixteenth Street:  A pretty child buying a balloon from a vendor.  She was the daughter of a South American minister.  The Chief Justice of the U. S., along with thousands of government clerks, walking to work.  A group of Indians, in native dress, on their way to pay respects to the Great White Father.  An ambassador from over the seas, a Senator often mentioned for the Presidency, an officer of the Siberian army in a gorgeous uniform, a famous mining engineer, all afoot, and the proprietor of a popular candy establishment riding in a horse-drawn Victoria.  A group of laborers quit their ditch-digging for their noon-day luncheon.  The lower end of Sixteenth Street housed national institutions, including our National Geographic Society, by far the largest scientific and educational society in the world.  Diagonally across the street was the home of the National Education Association.  Half a block to the south was the imposing Russian Embassy, once center of fashion and brilliant functions, now [in 1923], boarded up, silent, and vacant.  Newer homes of embassies and legations lied farther north, flanked by a beautiful new public park, where a panoramic view, statues of Joan of Arc and Dante, and croquette grounds were rival attractions.  Starting on its northward course at Lafayette Park, exactly opposite the stately colonial doorway of the White House, that Steet of the World continued its crow-flight course far beyond the limits of present buildings [in 1923], where trees and markers paid fitting tribute to heroes of the World War.  That street was national and international in a sense seldom realized.  The jurisdiction of the District of Columbia stopped at the front door of every embassy and legation, and Washington’s parks and circles were under control of the Federal Government.

The author turned to a less conspicuous but beautiful neighborhood.  On Twelfth and E streets, a near-beer saloon marked the home of James McNeill Whistler.  He was a government draftsman in the Coast and Geodetic Survey.  Two blocks north was the home of another clerk – his superiors said he was forever scribbling of the backs of envelopes – Walt Whitman.  Two more blocks north, on I Street, was the house where Mrs. Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote “Little Lord Fauntleroy.”  Back of St. John’s Church, not far to the east, on H Street, was a brownstone house where the British Minister lived.  There Robert Bulwer, later Earl of Lytton, wrote a greater part of “Lucile,” published some years later under his pen name, Owen Meredith.  Churches which Presidents attended were frequent; over on Capitol Hill was one where a famous orator practiced on Sunday evening congregations.  Pennsylvania Avenue was celebrated for its parades; its lower stretches were fascinating any afternoon at the hour Congress adjourned and legislators walked homeward.  Among Chinese laundries, “sample shoe” shops, and hotels was a book stall.  There a noted Supreme Court justice, now dead, bought thrillers, preferably detective stories.  The kindly old man would thrust it under his arm with a Bible commentary, chat a bit, take a bite from a plug of chewing tobacco, and trudge on his way.  Tradition, in Washington, always was brewing.  Uptown was a home, on a short modest street, where Marshal Joffre on a memorable Sunday morning made an appeal to America, through a group of newsmen, that the country send “just a hundred thousand or so soldiers” to France.  It was that appeal which caught the country’s imagination as no argument had – and its result was immortal history.

Next, the author considered the less official aspects of the Capital.  Springtime was flower time in Washington.  Balmy weather began to brew about mid-March; first the shoots of crocus and tulip appear in flower beds around the Capitol terrace, and from then on until late June, Washington became as much a resort as Miami in winter or New England in summer.  The climax of the flower season was the blooming of the famous Japanese cherry trees in Potomac Park.  Mrs. Taft, then in the White House, initiated the plan of planting the trees about the Tidal Basin, and the mayor of Tokyo cordially assisted.  Late afternoon and all-day Sundays during the “cherry-blossom time” the footpath around the mirror-like basin was crowded with pedestrians, and scores of amateurs were clicking cameras.  On a driveway beyond the trees, traffic policemen kept automobiles moving.  On Sunday afternoons, at the height of the season, crowds of motorists congested traffic throughout the vast stretches of Potomac Park.  Beyond the roadway was a practice golf course, to the south were polo grounds, and along the southern rim of the Basin itself was a bathing beach.  One needed no automobile to find the spring flowers in Washington.  Streetcars advertised the flowers.  The author decided to take one of those trolley tours.  He rode through venerable Georgetown.  There a panorama opened before him which could only be seen in Washington.  To the right was Georgetown University.  Across the river, to the left, was the Lee Mansion in Arlington.  Behind him stretched the Key Bridge, not named for its strategic location but for the author of our National Anthem, and connected Washington with the Arlington National Cemetery.  The center of the Key Bridge afforded an even more unusual picture than a memorable panorama of scenery and history – a picture that epitomized American transportation.  The eye caught speeding car and farmer’s wagon, electric train and trolley car, freight engine, canal boat, and river craft, and an airplane or two.

The trolley went down a steep bank and started up along the river.  The author watched a boy calling his mules; a coal-boat “captain” lolling on deck with a corn-cob pipe; and through a cabin window, a harried mother getting dinner while holding an infant.  Beyond the tree-shaded canal the river was flecked with boats – literally thousands of canoes, launches, and rowboats.  Between the whirlpool “Little Falls” and the decrepit wharves of Georgetown was an aquatic play-place supreme.  On the further steep and corrugated river bank, which was the Virginia side, was a veritable city of shacks and tents, summer campers allowed to “pick their sites.”  Up climbed the trolley car, shouldering the river ledge, until a welcome curve swerved it back to the path of safety.  The author got off the trolley at Chain Bridge.  That dangling structure connected a favorite Virginia motor road to Washington.  On the near side river and canal parted widely enough to make room for a colony of cottages – a rendezvous for artists.  There the canal had many locks, for the Potomac was making its final swift descent, having surrendered nobly to tide water at Great Falls.  On the Virginia side the banks, now too precipitous for habitation, were veritable palisades.  He passed Glen Echo, home of Clara Barton, now a pleasure park.  Sailors in uniform took their sweethearts boating on the canal.  A mile further on was Cabin John Bridge, a great stone arch, which projected an automobile road across a deep gully.  It performed a far more important function in supporting Washington’s water conduit beneath the highway.  In the middle river, in that vicinity, were islands where Potomac sediment borne from far up its course had sown plants of amazing variety.  Washington botanists maintained a club on one of those islands.

Back in Washington flower stores abounded.  Vendors displayed bouquets on sidewalks, and flower stalls flanked vegetable and meat stands of the markets.  Washington markets were institutions.  The Capital was said to go to market in larger proportion than any other city.  Wives of Cabinet members, Senators, and social leaders were seen strolling through the aisles of the vast Center Market, baskets on arms.  Outside that, and many smaller markets, wagons backed up to curbs laden with vegetables to be sold “direct from the farm to consumer.”  Even Washington hotels paid tribute to that flower season.  At Easter time their lobbies were banked with plants and cuts of flowers.  Next to flowers, Washington’s principal esthetic bent was music.  Here again the Capital did it differently.  To hear a symphony orchestra or a noted artist in concert, on must go at 4:30 in the afternoon.  A negligible number of concerts were given in the evening.  It behooved one to engage seat far in advance.  Entire series were sold out before the season opened.  Another uniquely Washington feature was its park concerts.  These were given in the afternoons and evenings by military and naval bands throughout the summer in all sections of the city.  Most notable of those concerts were the weekly programs of the U. S. Marine Band – the President’s Band – in the south grounds of the White House and at the east end of the Capitol.  Even theater-going Washington was different.  Frequently, the audience, not the play, was most distinctly the thing for the visitor.  Especially when the President was in attendance.  If the play was notable, especially if it be a classic, the visitor noted a phenomenon which gave a clue to another phase of Washington life.  Two or three rows of seats remained vacant until the curtain was about to rise; suddenly they were filled with a bevy of young girls.  Some girl’s school had adjudged that play one its pupils may see and had provided chaperones for their attendance.

Washington was becoming more and more a city of junior colleges, seminaries, “finishing schools,” and preparatory schools.  Private schools in Washington were numerous enough to constitute an important industry, but they were only a small segment of the institutions which made Washington an education center.  Facilities for research, such as those afforded by the Library of Congress; technical libraries of all kinds, ranging from the Army Medical Museum to the National Geographic Society; experts working upon every conceivable topic of current research; as well as teachers and advisors – those were some of the factors which made Washington a mecca for students.  Many bureaus of the government itself were finishing schools in highly specialized subjects, and young men gave valuable Federal service while pursuing investigations which made them stand out in their chosen fields.  At Catholic University courses were taken obtainable nowhere else in this country.  Georgetown University had a law school, a medical school, a foreign service school, beside the usual collegiate courses.  The American University was a Protestant institution for postgraduate work.  Someday the dream of George Washington for a great and truly national university in Washington was bound to be realized.  All the facilities were there.  Washington not only was educational; it was an education.  As sure a sign of spring in the Capital as the flowers were the coteries of high-schoolers and grade-school pupils who came in groups.  Their visit was far more than the usual sightseeing trip.  There was talk of giving school credit for those trips.  Indirectly, by making reports about them, pupils already got scholastic credit for their Washington visit.  The author finishes with quotes from several teachers stressing the importance of those Washington visits.



Tom Wilson

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