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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.

By Colbert King  | January 20, 2009; 9:21 AM ET
Categories:  King  | Tags:  Colbert King  
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Next: The Perfect Day


President Obama. At last.

Posted by: martymar123 | January 20, 2009 1:09 PM | Report abuse

Another really - really bad day for the DEMOCRUDS

Posted by: hclark1 | January 20, 2009 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Abraham Lincoln hailed from Illinois. Barak Obama hailed from Illinois. The similarity stops there.

Posted by: dhunter11469 | January 20, 2009 5:23 PM | Report abuse

The history here boggles the mind. It was worth reading again and again and savoring. That is why I hope this article is repeated on a less hectic day, when people will take time to read it and give it the attention it deserves. One has the feeling that a full circle of history has been made.

I know of at least one person who had never hung an American flag from my porch until today.

Posted by: martymar123 | January 20, 2009 5:51 PM | Report abuse

It is amazing that the same Democrats and Barack Obama that criticized and demonized President Bush for his hardline defense of the American people chose to emulate and exult President Lincoln. President Lincoln, a Republican, suspended Habeas Corpus and jailed newspaper writers that were critical of his war policies. His actions were far more harsh than those of President Bush, yet he is one of the most admired men in American history. Obama some day will be remembered as the Pay for Play president that promised the millions of non-tax paying people, vote for me and I will send you a check. I'll call it a tax cut even though you do not pay taxes. The people wanting a free hand out now out number the people that produce most of the nations income. Things can only go down from here.

Posted by: good_angel | January 20, 2009 6:07 PM | Report abuse

Today makes me proud to be an American.

Posted by: katman13 | January 20, 2009 6:29 PM | Report abuse

Have you been taking Marc Fisher's Fluffy Writing Course? The only detail of dubious relevance that you missed was that President Obama rode past a parked Lincoln Town Car.

Posted by: hisroc | January 20, 2009 6:42 PM | Report abuse

How can anyone not smile and shed a tear of glory today?

What a beautiful day!

A long time coming, indeed.

Posted by: laserbeam | January 20, 2009 7:44 PM | Report abuse

Thank God, the national nightmare is finally over. God bless and protect President Obama and let's celebrate a rebirth of the ideals of our founding fathers.

The American people, the majority of them, will not be fooled by the false and divisive politics of the Republican party for the third time.

Posted by: phirokawa | January 20, 2009 7:48 PM | Report abuse

You're a brave man, Mr. King, to tell history, not myth.

Posted by: officermancuso | January 20, 2009 7:55 PM | Report abuse

Lincoln loved to tell "N" jokes. He wanted to ship them all back to Africa en masse.

Posted by: NappyHeadedBO | January 20, 2009 7:59 PM | Report abuse

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