Lincoln's Ghost Along Pennsylvania Avenue
My friend Tersh Boasberg, chair of the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board, gave me permission to share with you his views on the perspective that soon-to-be President Barack Obama will have as he travels along the inauguration parade route today. Obama, Boasberg notes, will find the presence of Abraham Lincoln all along Pennsylvania Avenue.
Descending from Capitol Hill after lunch with the congressional leadership, the new president should cast a backward glance at the Capitol. He will see a landmark structure largely constructed by enslaved and free blacks. Lincoln insisted that construction on the massive new dome continue during the Civil War, despite labor and material shortages.
The Statue of Freedom atop the dome, Boasberg says, was cast, assembled and transported by a black slave, Philip Reid.
At the corner of 3rd Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, Obama will see the spot once occupied by the St. Charles Hotel, which advertised "roomy underground cells for confining slaves" while their masters dined and slept upstairs in elegance.
Further down the avenue, between 4th and 5th Streets, Boasberg says, was the Old City Hall, begun in 1820. On that spot, Lincoln offered "compensated emancipation" to D.C. slaveholders for their human property --nine months before the Emancipation Proclamation (uncompensated) was to take effect in the Confederacy.
Should Obama look to his left at the corner of 7th Street, as he passes the National Archives, he will see the site of the Center Market slave auctions.
Look to the right and down 8th Street, Boasberg says, and Obama will see the place where the Old Patent Office was located. Sick and dying Union soldiers were laid out between patent-display cases during the Civil War. Lincoln often stopped by to offer comfort to the troops. Lincoln also held his second Inaugural Ball at this location.
As the Obama motorcade passes 10th Street, Obama may catch a glimpse of Ford's Theater where Lincoln was shot.
At 14th Street, he will see the Willard Hotel. It's not the same building as in Lincoln's day, Boasberg observes. But it is the place where Julia Ward Howe composed the words to the Battle Hymn of the Republic in 1861. The Willard is also where Lincoln stayed for 10 days before his inauguration, says Boasberg.
As Obama turns the corner from Pennsylvania Avenue onto 15th Street, he will see over his left shoulder the statue of William Tecumseh Sherman in front of the Treasury Building. Sherman, says Boasberg, was praised for having critically turned the tide of the Civil War in favor of Lincoln's 1864 election by capturing Atlanta that September. But Sherman, he said, is also remembered as being "responsible for denying black Union troops the right to march down Pennsylvania Avenue along with their white comrades in arms in the glorious two-day victory parade in May 1865."
Obama, the nation's new commander in chief, Boasberg rightly observes, will traverse the same route his beloved Lincoln traveled -- and the same route that was also denied to Lincoln's black veterans.
And he will assume the presidency of the same nation, still indivisible.
Tersh, thanks so much.
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