KARE Project Update – Following in Our Forefathers Footsteps – Part II. As you may recall we left off with Part I on our adventures at The National Mall. From here we explored some other historic sights in our nation’s Capitol and surrounding area.
We start with Ford’s Theater. I really wanted to see Ford’s Theater so on another day we took the tour. We got our tickets on-line and when we got there the line out front went quickly. Walking into the theater was like walking back in time. Once inside the theater, you can sit and take in the features of the building before a park ranger gives a riveting account of what transpired leading up to the assassination of Lincoln.
Here is a picture of the stage were Our American Cousin was being performed that night, to the right is Lincoln’s theater box.
Here are some closer pictures of the Lincoln’s theater box. The chair on the left is where Lincoln was sitting when he was shot.
Notice in the picture above the portrait of George Washington . . . in Lincoln’s day there was yet to be a Presidential Seal so Washington’s portrait designated the president’s theater box.
Next door from Ford’s Theater is the Star Saloon Tavern. On April 14th, 1865 at about 9:00 p.m., John Wilkes Booth arrived at Ford’s Theatre. After speaking backstage with a friend and scene-shifter at the theater, Booth used a trap door to go beneath the stage. He came out on the south side of the stage, then passed out of a door into the covered passageway between the theater and the Star Saloon. He exited onto the sidewalk and went into the Star Saloon. There he had a couple drinks to steady his nerves. Just after 10 p.m., Booth walked backed into Ford’s Theatre and up to Lincoln’s box . . . The Star Saloon was briefly considered as a place to bring the wounded Lincoln before the decision was made to take him to William Petersen’s boarding house across the street.
When the tour was over we visited the gift shop where we found this Lincoln imposter.
We also toured the Petersen house, a brick federal style rowhouse where Lincoln died.
Between visits to her husband’s bedside, Mary Lincoln waited in this parlor with her son Robert and friends of the Lincoln family.
In this bedroom Secretary of War Stanton held several cabinet meetings, interviewed witnesses and ordered the pursuit of the assassins.
The hallway leading to the bedroom where he died.
The bed is not the original bed where Lincoln died . . . it used to be here along with the blood soaked pillow . . . they have been moved to a museum in Illinois. Visiting Ford’s Theater and the Petersen House was very cool for me. Lincoln has always been one of my favorite presidents and seeing these things in person was a great experience.
After the Ford’s Theater tour we ventured to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. We walked along the lake under all the Cherry trees . . . unfortunately they had already bloomed.
On our last tour day in DC we took the Metro to Arlington National Cemetery. The ride itself was kind of cool . . . boarding in Maryland, transferring in DC and getting off in Virginia. I always wanted to see Arlington in person and it was more awesome then I expected.
George Washington Parke Custis, grandson of Martha Washington, acquired the land that now is Arlington National Cemetery in 1802, and began construction of Arlington House. The estate passed to Custis’ daughter, Mary Anna, who had married United States Army officer Robert E. Lee. Custis’ will gave a “life inheritance” to Mary Lee, allowing her to live at and run Arlington Estate for the rest of her life but not enabling her to sell any portion of it. Upon her death, the Arlington estate passed to her eldest son, George Washington Custis Lee. The government acquired Arlington at a tax sale in 1864 for $26,800. Mrs. Lee had not appeared in person but rather had sent an agent, attempting to pay the $92.07 in property taxes assessed on the estate in a timely manner. The government turned away her agent, refusing to accept the tendered payment. In 1874, Custis Lee, heir under his grandfather’s will passing the estate in trust to his mother, sued the United States claiming ownership of Arlington. In December, 1882, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Lee’s favor in United States vs. Lee, deciding that Arlington had been confiscated without due process. After that decision, Congress returned the estate to him, and on March 3, 1883, Custis Lee sold it back to the government for $150,000 at a signing ceremony with Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln.
First stop in Arlington was the grave sites of President John F. Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Their grave sites are just below the Arlington House overlooking Washington D.C.. Ironically, President Kennedy in March of 1963 made an impromptu Sunday visit to the Arlington House. After touring the house the president remarked that the view of Washington, D.C., was so magnificent that he could stay forever —
Both of President Kennedy’s brothers, Robert Kennedy and Edward Kennedy are buried just to the left of the president on the slope directly below the Arlington House.
After visiting the Kennedy’s grave site we decide to walk up to the Arlington House. On the way there we started wondering where the first Arlington Cemetery grave was and who was buried there. Lo and behold, as we approached the Arlington House we found a grave unlike most all the rest. We stopped to read the plaque by the grave and found this to be the first grave at Arlington. It was of Mary Randolph. She was a cousin of Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis, wife of George Washington Parke Custis, the builder of Arlington. She died in 1828 and buried on the estate. The grave stone inscription reads “In the memory of Mrs. Mary Randolph, Her intrinsic worth needs no eulogium. The deceased was born The 9th of August, 1762 at Amphill near Richmond, Virginia And died the 23rd of January 1828 In Washington City a victim to maternal love and duty.”
Arlington National Cemetery, in whose 624 acres have been buried the dead of the nation’s conflicts beginning with the American Civil War, as well as reinterred dead from earlier wars. The views from some of the knolls looking over all the grave markers and headstones is overwhelming.
Riding the cemetery tour bus we passed by many notable grave sites, too many to name them all but here are a few . . . Gregory “Pappy” Boyington commander of the “Black Sheep Squadron”, Major General George S. Patton, John J. Pershing, America’s first General of the Armies, Robert Todd Lincoln, Joe Louis, world heavyweight boxing champion, Lee Marvin, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.. There are only two presidents buried at Arlington . . . John F. Kennedy and William Howard Taft. There also is the Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial and Astronauts Laurel Clark, David Brown and Michael Anderson, who were killed in the Columbia disaster.
Another must see at Arlington is the changing of the Guard at the “Tomb of the Unknowns”. It was initially named the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier”. Other unknown servicemen were later entombed there, and it became known as the “Tomb of the Unknowns”, though it has never been officially named. The soldiers entombed there are from WWI, WWII, The Korean War and the Vietnam War. Unknown Soldier of the Vietnam War were later identified after interment and disinterred in 1998. The family had them reinterred near their home in St. Louis, Missouri. It has been determined that the crypt at the Tomb of the Unknowns that contained the remains of the Vietnam Unknown will remain empty.
The Tomb of the Unknowns is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and in any weather by Tomb Guard sentinels. Sentinels, all volunteers, are considered to be the best of the elite 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment headquartered at Fort Myer, Va. The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, traditionally known as “The Old Guard,” is the oldest active-duty infantry unit in the Army, serving our nation since 1784. Each soldier must be in superb physical condition, possess an unblemished military record and be between 5 feet, 10 inches and 6 feet, 4 inches tall, with a proportionate weight and build. The guard is changed every half hour during daylight in the summer, and every hour during daylight in the winter and every two hours at night, regardless of weather conditions. There is a meticulous routine which the guard follows when watching over the graves. The Tomb Guard marches 21 steps down the black mat behind the Tomb. Turns, faces east for 21 seconds. Turns and faces north for 21 seconds. Takes 21 steps down the mat. Repeats the routine until the soldier is relieved of duty at the Changing of the Guard. When the “Changing of the Guard” takes place the relief commander conducts a detailed white-glove inspection of the weapon, checking each part of the rifle once. Then, the relief commander and the relieving sentinel meet the retiring sentinel at the center of the matted path in front of the Tomb. All three salute the Unknown who have been symbolically given the Medal of Honor.
Across from the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater where the Tomb of the Unknowns is located is the Maine Mast Memorial. The USS Maine was one of several new battleships built by the United States Navy in the late 1880’s to modernize the fleet. On January 25, 1898, the Maine was sent from Key West to Havana, Cuba, to protect American citizens and interests during the Cuban War of Independence. On February 15, 1898 an explosion on board Maine destroyed and sank the ship. The Maine was destroyed by the explosion of its ammunition magazines. But the board of inquiry were unable to determine what set off the ammunition. Nonetheless, the press and most members of Congress concluded that the Maine had struck a naval mine laid by the Spanish. The memorial consists of the main mast of the battleship set atop a circular concrete burial receiving vault designed to resemble a battleship.
To wrap up our visit to Arlington National Cemetery we visited the grave marker of Audie Murphy. Audie Murphy was one of the most decorated American combat soldiers of World War II, receiving every military combat award for valor available from the U.S. Army, as well as French and Belgian awards for heroism. At the age of 19, Murphy received the Medal of Honor after single-handedly holding off an entire company of German soldiers for an hour at the Colmar Pocket in France in January 1945, then leading a successful counterattack while wounded and out of ammunition. After the war Murphy enjoyed a 21-year acting career. He played himself in the 1955 autobiographical To Hell and Back based on his 1949 memoirs of the same name, but most of his films were westerns. His marker was just a short distance from the Maine Mast Memorial which you can see its base in the background of the first picture.
We had a wonderful time in our nation’s Capitol and saw as many of the awesome and historic sites as we could in the time allowed. I am sure we could have spent many more days exploring but had to move on. Stay tuned for our next “On the Road With Us” blog . . . about “The Sweetest Place on Earth” coming soon.