Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Washington Revisited

One of my all time favorite authors is David McCullough. I’ve recently read his Brave Companions. Mostly a collection of biographical essays on a remarkable variety of people, it also contains an article on Washington, D.C., the city where McCullough lives, a city he clearly loves.

Washington is, he reminds us, a city known for politics and government, but deserving of being known for its many other features. Among these are its architectural and historical buildings. McCullough cites Blair House, built in 1824, where President Truman rushed to an upstairs window in his underwear to find that a would-be assassin and a private in the White House police had been shot as he napped.

He describes Octagon House, where President James and Dolly Madison lived for six months after the British burned the White House in 1814 and where the Treaty of Ghent was signed in the circular parlor over the main entrance.

He names the palatial red-brick house in Georgetown, once a summer residence for Ulysses S. Grant and, many years later, the bachelor quarters of the young New Dealers who made up Franklin Roosevelt’s “Brain Trust.”

He describes the eloquent headquarters of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, once a prestigious apartment house in which Andrew Mellon occupied the top floor. He names the house near Dupont Circle where Alice Roosevelt Longworth presided over the top level of Washington society; and more.

My wife, Betty, who also read McCullough’s book, agrees with me that it makes us want to return to Washington, where we spent so many days off some years ago when I was the interim pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in nearby Annapolis. “How did we miss all that?” she asks.

We missed it because we were so engaged in seeing another non-political side of Washington: the diverse attractions of its many museums.

McCullough knows you have to live in Washington to take it all in. I agree with his thought that the politicians who can’t wait to get out of town when the House or Senate shuts down might learn something useful if they became better acquainted with the city they seem just to camp out in.

~Bert Johnston
Visit me at www.bertjohnston.com

1 comment:

  1. I'll have to get a copy of the book. We've been thinking about a trip to Washington. Thanks!