The Exorcist Stairs

The exorcist stairs in 
Georgetown overlooks M Street from Prospect Street. When the author William Peter Blattay was an undergrad at Georgetown he was asked to carry a file, concerning the 1949 exorcism of child in nearby Cottage City Maryland, from one building to another. Blattay stopped and read the file at the top of the stairs and later included the site in his book and still later in the film. The 75 stairs are the equivalent of a five story building and are steeper than they appear. There is no home located near the steps, only a building to the left, which was once a bus round about. Up until the mid-1950s, black people riding the bus from DC into Virginia, had to reseat themselves in the roundabout and take the seats in the back of the bus. As far as I know the property is now the home of Spanish Military Attaché.

Poet John A. Joyce is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown


Laugh, and the World Laughs With You

These lines begin "Solitude," first published in the Feb. 25, 1883, issue of the New York Sun. The author was Ella Wheeler, and the inspiration for the poem came to Miss Wheeler on a day in early February, when she was to attend the governor's inaugural ball in Madison, Wis. She was on a train, enroute to the celebration, when she noticed a young woman dressed in black sitting across the aisle from her. Since the woman was crying, Miss Wheeler sat next to her and sought to comfort her for the rest of the journey. When they arrived, the poet was so depressed that she wondered how she could possibly attend the scheduled festivities. Later on, with the incident behind her, Miss Wheeler prepared for the inaugural ball. As she looked at her own radiant face in the mirror, she suddenly recalled the sorrowful widow. It was at that moment that she wrote the opening lines of "Solitude":

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;

Weep, and you weep alone.

She sent the poem to the Sun and received $5 for her effort. In May, 1883, "Solitude" appeared in Miss Wheeler's book Poems of Passion. While most of the book was second-rate verse, it received much attention from the press, because readers assumed that Miss Wheeler, a single woman, had herself experienced all that she had written about. Consequently, she and her book were called "indecent," "shocking," and "disgraceful."

(In actuality, Miss Wheeler was the daughter of a Wisconsin farmer, and her exposure to the "real" world was very limited.) Condemnation from the critics served only to spark the public's imagination, and the poetry book enjoyed great financial success. When Miss Wheeler married Robert Marius Wilcox, she prepared to step out of the limelight.

However, in 1885 author John A. Joyce produced the second edition of his A Checkered Life, a book of personal reminiscences. At the end of the book was a collection of Joyce's poems, one of which was titled "Laugh and the World Laughs with You." The poem was, word for word, a reprint of "Solitude." Mrs. Wilcox immediately challenged Joyce to produce evidence of his authorship. And she offered to donate $5,000 to any reputable charity of Joyce's choosing-the sum to be given in his name-if he could prove that she was not the actual author of the poem. While no one else disputed the fact that Mrs. Wilcox had authored the poem, Joyce refused to abandon his claim. Throughout the rest of his life, he continued to reprint the poem as his own. Before he died in 1915, he had the first two lines of "Solitude" emblazoned on his tombstone in Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Ever since the poem was originally published in 1883, its opening lines have frequently been misquoted as "Laugh, and the world laughs with you; / Cry, and you cry alone."


Thomas Etholen Selfridge

Thomas Etholen Selfridge (February 8, 1882 – September 17, 1908) was a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army and the first person to die in a crash of a powered airplane. He was a passenger on an aircraft piloted by Orville Wright.

Selfridge took his first flight on December 6, 1907, on Alexander Graham Bell's tetrahedral kite, the Cygnet, made of 3,393 winged cells. It took him 168 feet in the air above Bras d'Or Lake in Nova Scotia, Canada, and flew for seven minutes. This was the first recorded flight carrying a passenger of any heavier-than-air craft in Canada.

In August 1908, the Army tentatively agreed to purchase an airplane from the Wright Brothers and had scheduled the acceptance trials in September. Selfridge, with an interest in both heavier-than-air and lighter-than-air ships, went to Fort Myer, to watch Orville Wright demonstrate the Wright Flyer for the US Army Signal Corps division, Selfridge arranged to be a passenger while Orville piloted the craft.

On September 17, 1908, the Wright Flyer circled Fort Myer 4½ times at 150 feet. Halfway through the fifth circuit, the right propeller broke, losing thrust. This set up a vibration, causing the split propeller to hit a guy wire bracing the rear vertical rudder. The wire tore out of its fastening and shattered the propeller; the rudder swiveled to the horizontal and sent the Flyer into a nose-dive. Orville shut off the engine and managed to glide to about 75 feet, but the Flyer hit the ground nose first.

When the craft hit the ground, both Selfridge and Wright were thrown against the remaining wires. Selfridge was thrown against one of the wooden uprights of the framework, and his skull was fractured. He underwent neurosurgery but died that evening without regaining consciousness. He was 26.

Orville suffered severe injuries, including a broken left thigh, several broken ribs and a damaged hip, and was hospitalized for seven weeks. Selfridge was not wearing any headgear, while Wright was only wearing a cap, as two existing photographs taken before the flight prove. If Selfridge had been wearing a helmet of some sort, he most likely would have survived the crash. As a result of Selfridge's death, the US Army's first pilots wore large heavy headgear reminiscent of early football helmets.

Thomas Selfridge is buried at Arlington National Cemetery; which is adjacent to Fort Myer.

Our national anthem as a drinking song

Francis Scott Key (Above)was familiar with a popular drinking ditty that was so difficult to sing that it was used as an 18th century sobriety test. He converted the song into our national anthem, translating “And swear by old Styx, that we long shall entwine, the myrtle of Venus and Bacchus’ vine” into “Oh, say, does that star spangled banner yet wave, Ore the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Borrowed from a popular melody was common practice at the time, there was no copyright protection after all and popular melodies, were used and reused over and over again as a political song, a hymn, march tune, a drinking song, or a country dance etc.

The song used to create out national anthem dates from the mid-1770s and it was composed for a group of Londoners who had formed a social club that meet every other week in the winter. The meetings included a formal concert, a dinner, and a social time afterwards during which the members entertained each other by singing catches, glees, and amusing songs.

One of the club’s founders, Ralph Tomlinson (1744–1778), wrote the words in 1776, at about the same time he became president of the club.

To Anacreon in Heaven, where he sat in full glee,

A few sons of harmony sent a petition,

That he their inspirer and patron should be.

When this answer arrived from that jolly old Grecian:

Voice, fiddle and flute no longer be mute,

I’ll lend you my name and inspire you to boot,

And besides I’ll instruct you like me to entwine

The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’ vine."

Anacreon was a Greek poet who was born about 572 B.C. Anacreon wrote extensively about women and wine, and that was his main attraction to the London gentlemen.  The name of the club became “The Anacreontic Society”, in honor of ‘that jolly old Grecian.’ 
And the title of the new song came from the opening line of the poem, “To Anacreon in Heaven”, John Stafford Smith wrote the music. He was not a member of the club but was the organist at the Chapel Royal. Tomlinson may have commissioned him to write the tune for his new lyrics.

By 1798 the song made its way to the states and was used in a tune  called “Adams and Liberty—The Boston Patriotic Song.” And Thomas Jefferson was elected, another set of lyrics to the tune was entitled “Jefferson and Liberty.”

“Star Spangled Banner” become our national anthem officially in 1931.



On January 30, 1835, as President Andrew Jackson walked out of the Capitol building’s east portico after attending the funeral of U.S. Representative Warren Davis. At that same moment a man named Richard Lawrence, an unemployed house painter from England who suffered from mental defects, calmly walked up to the President, pulled out a pistol, aimed  and fired at Jackson. The gun misfired and Lawrence pulled out another pistol and fired, but that too, misfired, probably due to the heavy humidity.

Lawrence was then severely beaten by the notoriously ill-tempered Jackson who whipped the man repeatedly with his thick walking stick until he was pulled away by his aides. The man was then taken away by three members of Congress that included Davy Crockett.

Under arrest, Lawrence told doctors that he tried to kill Jackson because it was his fault he could not find work as a house painter and with Jackson dead, the economy would improve. He also said that he was the deposed English King Richard III (Who had died two almost four hundred years before) He was diagnosed as insane and committed to an insane asylum for the rest of his life.

In an early attempt on Jackson’s life, the first attempt to assassinate a sitting US President, happened on May 6, 1833 by a man named Robert B. Randolph, whom Jackson had tossed out of the US Navy for embezzling pay role monies.  On May 6, Jackson arrived to the port at Alexandria to take a ship to Fredericksburg to pay homage to Mary Ball Washington. However, Randolph rushed from a crowd and punched Jackson and ran. He was chased down bystanders (Including Washington Irving) captured and arrested but Jackson dropped the charges.

In August of 1864, President Abe Lincoln was riding in his carriage through downtown Washington, when someone, it isn’t known who, fired a shot that put a bullet hole through the President stove-hat but missed him.  Had Lincoln been killed, the government would have fallen into the hands of the wildly inept Vice President Hannibal Hamlin.

A spend thrift of the people’s money for his own comforts and noted for his political cronyism, Hamlin had been picked by the Republican Party because the Lincoln ticket needed an East Coast politician to balance the Midwestern Lincoln. Before his nomination, Hamlin had never met Lincoln.

During most of his time in office as Vice President, Hamlin spent most of his time with his family in his native Maine, yet he had the nerve to complain to his wife that he was "the most unimportant man in Washington, ignored by the President, the cabinet, and Congress." Lincoln dropped Hamlin from his ticket when he ran for a second term.

Tom Hanks

Abraham Lincoln’s grandfather was named Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln’s father and mother were named Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks Lincoln. Actor Tom Hanks is a direct descendant from Abraham Lincoln through his mother’s side, Nancy Hanks Lincoln.


The death of Abe Lincoln

The price of tickets for the production of “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theatre the night of the Lincoln assassination was were Orchestra (main level, chair seating) $1.00, Dress Circle (first balcony, chair seating) $.75, Family Circle (second balcony, bench seating) $.50.

On the day before he went to Ford’s Theater, April 14, 1865, Lincoln is quoted as saying to his bodyguard,  William H. Crook (above) “Crook, do you know I believe there are men who want to take my life? And I have no doubt they will do it …. I know no one could do it and escape alive. But if it is to be done, it is impossible to prevent it.”
Fifteen people turned down President Lincoln’s invitation to join him and Mary Todd Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre on the night of his assassination, April 14, 1865.  It was good
Friday of the Easter weekend, and most people had plans.  Another factor, probably, was Mary Todd Lincoln’s erratic and spiteful behavior to almost everyone who came near her husband.  (In 1875, Mary was committed to an insane asylum by her only surviving son, Robert Lincoln.)

 The fifteen people who turned down the Lincoln’s were Mr. & Mrs. Edwin Stanton, General & Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, William A. Howard, General Isham N. Haynie, Richard J. Olgesby, Richard Yates, Noah Brooks, Thomas Eckert, George Ashmun, Schuyler Colfax, Mr.  & Mrs. William H. Wallace & Robert Lincoln.

Edwin Stanton (Above) was Lincoln’s Secretary of War probably refused to go because his wife could not get along with Mrs. Lincoln.  The Grants were already booked aboard a train to leave Washington to spend time with their children in New Jersey.  But, again, Mrs. Grant also disliked Mrs. Lincoln and that may have been the actual reason for turning down the first couple.

Postmaster William A. Howard was leaving the city to return to his native Detroit.

General Isham N. Haynie and Richard J. Olgesby had already made plans to entertain friends that evening.  Noah Brooks, a reporter, was sick with the flu.  Thomas Eckert a telegraph operator at the War Department refused because he was overworked.  George Ashmun had a previous engagement, as did Speaker of the House of Representatives
Shuyler Colfax.  Mr. and Mrs. William H. Wallace, the Governor of Idaho territories, claimed to be too tired to attend the play that evening.  Robert Lincoln, the President’s eldest son, had just returned from a tour of duty with General Grant and was tired.

The contents of Lincoln’s pockets from the night of the assassination are housed at the Library of Congress. Some of these items included newspaper clippings, spectacle and reading glasses and their cases, a pocket knife and even a Confederate five dollar bill.

Tad Lincoln (above, the President’s youngest son) was at another theatre the night his father was shot. Tad was attending a performance of “Aladdin or the Wonderful Lamp” at Grover’s Theatre. Attending with him was his tutor, who had the news of the shooting whispered to him. The tutor rushed Tad out of the theatre and took him back home to the White House.

Major Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris, the couple who attended the play at Ford’s Theatre with the Lincoln’s had a tragic ending. On July 11, 1867, the Rathbone’s were married. Rathbone eventually started to have severe mood swings and in 1883, while the family was living in Germany, Rathbone tried to murder his children. He then shot and stabbed his wife to death. He also tried to kill himself but failed.  He was found insane and sent to an asylum for the rest of his life.

The last surviving person who was in Ford’s Theatre the night of the assassination was Samuel J. Seymour (of Easton Md.) who died at age 96 on April 14, 1956, exactly 91 years to the day that the assassination took place. Seymour was 5 years old when his godmother, Mrs. George S. Goldsborough, took him to see Our American Cousin. They sat in the Dress Circle facing opposite the Presidential box and witnessed the assassination and Booth’s leap to the stage.

On April 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln’s autopsy was performed in the 2nd floor guest room at the front right hand corner (northwest corner) of the White House. Lincoln was the first President of the United States to be embalmed. Over one million people viewed the Presidents body during the open casket viewings as the train carrying his body rolled across the country to take the corpse to Lincoln’s hometown of Springfield, Illinois for burial.  As early as the New York observers noticed that Lincoln’s face was showing signs of blackening and discoloration. For the remainder of the trip, undertakers would frequently apply white chalk powder, rouge and amber makeup to make the President appear as normal as possible.

There is a medical debate that started in the 1960′s about whether Mr. Lincoln had Marfan Syndrome.  The syndrome is an inherited disorder of connective tissue People with Marfan syndrome tend to have long limbs and are usually, but not always, tall. The syndrome can also cause spine problems, abnormally-shaped chest, and loose joints.

The diagnosis was based on physical observations of Lincoln: the fact that he was much taller than most men of his day, with long limbs, an abnormally-shaped chest, and loose (lax) joints (based on written descriptions).

 Lincoln had two Life Masks made of his face (and one set of his hands). One was made  in 1860 by Leonard Volk just prior to Lincoln’s nomination for President and the other was made by Clark Mills on February 11, 1865 just two months prior to his assassination.

Four soldiers of the Veteran Reserve Corps were assigned the duty of springing the traps that hung the Lincoln conspirators. On a signal from executioner Christian Rath, the posts were knocked out by the men,  springing the trap doors. One of the men was Private William Coxshall who later said of the incident “I became nauseated, what with the heat and waiting, and taking hold of the supporting post, I hung on and vomited”.

In 1876, Lincoln’s body was almost the victim of a grave robbing plot.  On November 7, 1876, a group of Chicago counterfeiters attempted to steal Lincoln’s body and hold it for ransom and the release of one of their incarcerated members (their engraver)

The long and short of it


Mary Ann Todd Lincoln, the wife of the president was only 5′-2″ tall. Abe was just under 6′-4″ tall, a difference of 14 inches.

Near useless facts about Abe Lincoln

Lincoln was once challenged to a duel and he accepted. The man who issued the challenge later dropped it and the duel never happened. Lincoln spoke in a high pitched voice with a Kentucky accent. Lincoln never traveled to a foreign country. Abe Lincoln wore reading glasses.  He was the first President to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. He issued the proclamation on October 3, 1863.  Lincoln’s bed was oversized to accommodate his lengthy body. The bed was 9′-0″ long and 9′-0″ high to the top of the headboard. Lincoln could play the Jews’ harp


Robert Todd Lincoln

Robert Todd Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s oldest son, lived until 1926.  He was present on May 30, 1922 at the dedication ceremony for the Lincoln Memorial.  Robert is also related to a series of strange coincidences that related to Presidential assassinations.

Robert Todd at the memorial (Far right)

He was invited to accompany his parents to the Ford’s Theatre the night his father was shot and killed. 
He was also at the Sixth Street Train Station in D.C., when President Garfield was shot by Charles J. Guiteau on July 2, 1881 and was an eyewitness to the event.  Robert was serving as Garfield’s Secretary of War at the time.

He was also present at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, when President William McKinley was shot by Leon F. Czolgosz on September 6, 1901, though he was not an eyewitness to the event.”

In 1863 or 1864, Robert fell onto the railroad tracks at a New Jersey train station and was saved by Edwin Booth, (above) John Wilkes older brother.

He died in 1926, was not buried with Abraham Lincoln, his mother, and three brothers. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Interesting but of no national value

President Washington was the wealthiest man in American at the time of his election as President, but he had to borrow money to attend his inauguration. His enormous wealth was attributed the vast property that he owned which produced almost no cash flow.

 John Tyler, who was President from 1841 to 1845, joined the Confederacy twenty years later and became the only President named a sworn enemy of the United States.

 President Andrew Jackson believed the world was flat

FDR was so superstitious, that he would never leave town on a Friday and never sit at a table with 13 people.

Franklin Roosevelt was related to Teddy Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and even his own wife, Eleanor, a second cousin. Although the relationship with the Roosevelt's was an uncomfortable situation for many people, there was stranger twist to the First Couples marriage. For 30 plus years, from 1932 on, Eleanor Roosevelt had an affair with another woman, Associated Press reporter Lenora Hickok. Eleanor wrote well over 2,300 passionate love letters to Hicky which Hicky saved on the condition that they not be published until 10 years after Eleanor's death.

President Atchison

A man named David Rice Atchison was President of the United States for one day and didn't even know it. According to the law at the time, if neither the President nor the Vice President were in office, the President Pro Tem of the Senate (Atchinson) became President. On March 4, 1849, President Polk's term had expired and President-elect Taylor could not yet be sworn in because it was a Sunday. Atchinson did not realize that he had been President for a day until several months later. The law that made Atchinson President for a day has since been changed.

Now there's a talent you don't see everyday

President Garfield could write in Latin with one hand and in Greek with the other... simultaneously

Road problems


Ulysses S. Grant was convicted of exceeding the speed limit while riding with his horse in the streets of Washington, D.C. late one night. The accusing police officer was reluctant to issue the $20 fine when he realized that the offender was President Grant, but Grant insisted the he be fined.

President Franklin Pierce was arrested during his term as President for running over an old lady with his horse, but the charges were later dropped.

Draft dodger


President Grover Cleveland was a draft dodger. He hired someone to enter the service in his place. He was ridiculed by his political opponent, James Blaine, but it was soon discovered that Blaine had done the same thing himself

Its all a matter of good PR

George Washington was not the first President of the United States. The first President, John Hanson, was Maryland's representative at the Continental Congress. On November 5, 1781, Hanson, who is considered a black man because of his Moorish background, was elected by the Constitutional Congress to the office of "President of the United States in Congress Assembled." He served for one year and was followed by 6 other Presidents before Washington was elected.

July 4

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on the same day: July 4, 1826. Jefferson's last words were: "Is it the fourth?"

Maybe they were trying to kill Robert

Robert Todd Lincoln, son of Abe Lincoln, was present at the assassinations of three Presidents: his father's, President Garfield's and President McKinley's. After the last shooting, he refused to attend any State affairs. He would not have been present at these events if it hadn't been for the brother of John Wilkes Booth, who saved his life years earlier.

If it wasn't for bad luck, he would have no luck at all

Iconic black and white photograph of Lincoln showing his head and shoulders.

When Abe Lincoln was 22, his business failed. When he was 23, he lost a bid for U.S. Congress. When he was 24, he failed in business again. The following year, he was elected to the state legislature. When he was 26, his sweetheart died. At age 27, he had a nervous breakdown. When he was 29, he was defeated for the post of Speaker of the House in the state legislature. When he was 31, he was defeated as Elector. When he was 34, he ran for Congress again and lost. At the age of 37, he ran for Congress yet again and finally won, but two years later he lost his re-election campaign. At the age of 46, he ran for a U.S. Senate seat and lost. The following year he ran for Vice President and lost. Finally, at the age of 51, he was elected President of the United States during a civil war and was killed in office.

USS Constitution drawing

This drawing of the USS Constitution is now on display at the National Archives building Rotunda Gallery. Having it on view all of August is fitting at this time of sunny days at the shore. This 1817 sail drawing by Charles Ware shows the elaborate sails needed to power the ship. The drawing is from Record Group 19-4-43.

The Social Security Act

On August 14, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act.
Later that day, the Washington Post proclaimed that the Social Security Act was the “New Deal’s Most Important Act…Its importance cannot be exaggerated …because this legislation eventually will affect the lives of every man, woman, and child in the country.” This poster was distributed from November 1936- July 1937 during the initial issuance of Social Security numbers through U.S. post offices and with the help of labor unions.

Meriwether Lewis, Virginian

On August 8 1774, explorer Meriwether Lewis was born in the Colony of Virginia. Lewis was best known for his role as co-leader of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (a.k.a. the Corps of Discovery).The Lewis and Clark Expedition contributed to the expansion of the United States and the understanding of indigenous nations and terrain of the far west.

Meriwether Lewis was born in Albemarle County, Virginia, in the present-day community of Ivy. He was the son of Lt. William Lewis of Locust Hill (1733 – November 17, 1779), who was of Welsh ancestry, and Lucy Meriwether (February 4, 1752 – September 8, 1837), daughter of Thomas Meriwether and Elizabeth Thornton who were both of English ancestry. (Thornton was the daughter of Francis Thornton and Mary Taliaferro).

After his father died of pneumonia, he moved with his mother and stepfather Captain John Marks to Georgia in May 1780.They settled along the Broad River in the Goosepond Community within the Broad River Valley in Wilkes County (now Oglethorpe County).

During his time in Georgia, Lewis enhanced his skills as a hunter and outdoorsman. He would often venture out in the middle of the night in the dead of winter with only his dog, Seaman, to go hunting. Even at an early age, he was interested in natural history, which would develop into a lifelong passion. His mother taught him how to gather wild herbs for medicinal purposes.

In the Broad River Valley, Lewis first dealt with American Indians. This was the traditional territory of the Cherokee, who resented encroachment by the colonists. Lewis seems to have been a champion for them among his own people. While in Georgia, he met Eric Parker, who encouraged him to travel.

At thirteen, Lewis was sent back to Virginia for education by private tutors. His father's older brother Nicholas Lewis became his guardian. One of his tutors was Parson Matthew Maury, an uncle of Matthew Fontaine Maury. In 1793, Lewis graduated from Liberty Hall (now Washington and Lee University).

That year he joined the Virginia militia, and in 1794 he was sent as part of a detachment involved in putting down the Whiskey Rebellion. In 1795 Lewis joined the U.S. Army, commissioned as a Lieutenant, where he served until 1801. Among his commanding officers was William Clark, who would later become his companion in the Corps of Discovery.

On April 1, 1801, Lewis was appointed as an aide by President Thomas Jefferson, whom he knew through Virginia society in Albemarle County. Lewis resided in the presidential mansion, and frequently conversed with various prominent figures in politics, the arts and other circles.

 Originally, he was to provide information on the politics of the United States Army, which had seen an influx of Federalist officers as a result of John Adams's "midnight appointments". When Jefferson began to plan for an expedition across the continent, he chose Lewis to lead the expedition

Seth Kinman

Seth Kinman sitting in a grizzly bear chair he presented to U.S. President Andrew Johnson, 1865

Seth Kinman was an early settler of Humboldt County, California, a hunter based in Fort Humboldt, a famous chair maker, and a nationally recognized entertainer. He stood over 6 ft (1.83 m) tall and was known for his hunting prowess and his brutality toward bears and Indians. Kinman claimed to have shot a total of over 800 grizzly bears, and, in a single month, over 50 elk. He was also a hotel keeper, barkeeper, and a musician who performed for President Lincoln on a fiddle made from the skull of a mule.
Known for his publicity seeking, Kinman appeared as a stereotypical mountain man dressed in buckskins on the U.S. east coast and selling cartes de visites of himself and his famous chairs. The chairs were made from elkhorns and grizzly bear skins and given to U.S. Presidents. Presidents so honored include James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, and Rutherford Hayes. He may have had a special relationship with President Lincoln, appearing in at least two of Lincoln’s funeral corteges, and claiming to have witnessed Lincoln’s assassination.


Prior to the erection of the National Gallery’s West Building in 1941, this locale was the former site of the Sixth Street rail station (razed in 1904) that was a part of the Baltimore & Potomac (B&P) Railroad. At 9:30 a.m. on July 2, 1881, the twentieth President of the United States, James Garfield, was about to embark on a leave for his summer vacation when he was approached by Charles Guiteau and shot in the back from point-blank range.

The tale of Mr. Guiteau is a bizarre and yet intriguing one that is chalk full of ironies and jaw-dropping moments. Guiteau was a former lawyer who attempted to crack into politics and also campaigned for Garfield during his first Presidential election campaign in 1880. During Garfield’s campaign, Guiteau even drafted a speech on behalf of the future president. Although the speech was never publicly declared, Guiteau printed up copies of it and handed them out. Believing this to be a decisive element in Garfield’s victory, Guiteau paid the President an in-person visit at the White House to accept his perceived due reward. Guiteau did not waste any time for his visit and arrived the day after Garfield’s inauguration in March of 1881. On this occasion, Guiteau was surprisingly enough granted a meeting with the President; however, he failed in his ultimate objective to receive a job offer. Disgruntled, Guiteau continued to make further attempts to meet with and convince Garfield of his worth. He was finally banned from the White House in May 1881, although he continued to chase other members of Garfield’s cabinet in the ensuing months. Guiteau also began to stalk Garfield at other locales including Lafayette Square Park and Garfield’s church.
Eventually frustration kicked in and Guiteau decided to take matters into his own hands. He purchased an ivory-handled .44 Webley British Bulldog revolver for $15 and planned to assassinate the President. The particular make/model of gun he purchased was primarily driven by (according to Guiteau) that weapon which he perceived would look best in a museum after he murdered the President. In making preparations for his plot he even decided to visit his potential future home when he inquired of one of the local jails for a tour. Even here, however, he was turned away.
On the day in question, Guiteau arrived in advance of the President at the Sixth Street rail station. When the President walked into the station (sans security guards), Guiteau simply walked up to him and shot him once in the back and one in the shoulder. Shocked observers then watched as Guiteau began to casually stroll out of the station before being apprehended at the last minute by a local policeman named Patrick Kearney. Kearney, in all of the excitement, realized later that he had failed to disarm Guiteau who maintained the revolver during his entire journey to the police station. This famous revolver would be displayed within one of the Smithsonian museums until the early twentieth century until it was reportedly discovered as missing (possibly via a theft).

While Guiteau was being processed on charges for attempted murder, Garfield was taken back to the hospital where doctors haphazardly began to try and save the President’s life. The first doctor’s attempt to ease Garfield’s pain via brandy was promptly thrown up. Subsequent doctors (of which there were sixteen in total) took turns probing the back wound with unsterilized tools searching for the bullet which they felt needed to be removed. Unknown to the doctors, the bullet was lodged within the President’s back muscles and harmless to any vital organs. Instead, the multiple efforts of probing not only led to development of a serious infection, but also led to the President receiving a cracked rib and a punctured liver as well.
Baffled doctors, distraught over their inability to find the missing bullet, engaged the services of famed inventor Alexander Graham Bell to employ a metal-detecting device on the President. The device, which consisted of two coiled wires attached to a battery and a telephone, emitted a humming noise when it was near metal. When approached on using the device on the President, Bell decided to test the machine first on some veterans at the nearby Old Soldiers Home in Washington D.C. where the tests proved successful. Bell subsequently attempted to use the invention on the President; however, the device emitted a continuous hum which proved unhelpful in the bullet search. Later, Bell would discover that the President had in fact been laid upon a coil spring bed (a rarity in those days) which in essence rendered the device worthless.
Unable to stave off infections as a result of his medical attention, President Garfield would pass away on September 19, 1881. In his final days the President had been transported to the Jersey Shore in hopes that a cooler climate would assist his growing fever. Unfortunately the transport did not have the desired effect and Garfield passed away exactly two months before his fiftieth birthday.
As for Guiteau, he would stand trial in November of that year for charges of murdering the President. Guiteau vehemently fought the charges proclaiming that it was not his bullet that killed the President but the ineptitude of the doctors servicing him. He proclaimed at his trial, “I deny the killing, your honor please. We admit the shooting.” Guiteau commenced with further antics throughout his trial including singing a song of “John Brown’s Body.” He was eventually found guilty on January 25, 1882 and sentenced to be hung. Just prior to be hanged, when asked if he had any last requests, Guiteau asked for an orchestra to accompany the reading of a poem he wrote. Although denied the orchestra, Guiteau was allowed to recite his poem which he titled, “I am Going to the Lordy.”

The Congressman who got away with murder

With wealth, power, and political connections, Daniel Edgar Sickles knew how to get what he wanted. When the popular, albeit emotional and volatile, Congressman from New York learned that the District Attorney of Washington, D.C. was having an affair with his wife, he took matters into his own hands.

Born on October 20, 1819 in New York City, Sickles married Teresa Bagioli, half his age and in her mid-teens, in 1852. He was elected to Congress four years later. They had a daughter, Laura, and were popular hosts to the Washington elite and insiders. It was at one of these soirees that Teresa, youthful and charming with a lovely round face, met the handsome and connected Philip Barton Key, the local District Attorney. A widower, Key beckoned from a famous family. His father, Francis Scott Key, wrote the "The Star-Spangled Banner" while his uncle, Roger Taney, served as Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Key and Teresa soon started an illicit romance, with Key going so far as renting a home to unsuccessfully shield their trysts from an all-knowing public.

Sickles soon learned of the affair upon receiving an anonymous letter. Like lightning striking a mighty oak, Sickles, despite his past affairs, was jolted by the news. He wept and groaned and confronted his young wife, who he forced to write a confession. In it, she admitted, in part, that she “did what is usual for a wicked woman to do.”

The next day, February 27, 1859, the lovesick Key wandered near the Sickles home with the hope of seeing his lover. Sickles spotted Key, who at forty was slightly older than Sickles, and became enraged. In short order, he followed and confronted his wife's lover, winding up in front of the White House. “Key, you scoundrel, you have dishonored my house. You must die!”

Sickles drew a pistol and fired. A near miss inflicting only a minor injury to Key’s hand. A scuffle. Sickles pulled back and drew another gun. “Don’t murder me!” Key cried. From a few feet away, Sickles shot Key in the upper leg. Key collapsed to the ground, screaming for mercy.

Sickles again pulled the trigger. Click. A misfire. He pulled it yet again. This time a bullet went surging into Key’s body just below his heart. Sickles stepped even closer. Click. Another misfire. A bystander jumped in. Too late.

Like the speed of the bullets leaving his gun, the news of the shooting shot throughout the nation, monopolizing the headlines. Sickles confessed to the killing and sat in jail where countless friends and politicians came to visit. He bemoaned the state of his marriage even though his own adultery was well known.


His murder trial began April 4, 1859. Sickles' legal team was impressive, with future Secretary of State Edwin Stanton and James Topham Brady, an insanity expert, representing him. That temporary insanity had not been used before was no impediment to it being used now.

Robert Ould inherited the job as District Attorney. The trial at City Hall was crowded, the weather hot and muggy. The prosecutor depicted Sickles as a walking arsenal, intent on murder. Brady countered that Sickles was a hero doing away with Key, a sexual predator. He also portrayed his client as being driven to temporary insanity, pushed over the edge by an unfaithful wife. Sickles cried as the witnesses testified.

After a nearly month long trial, the jurors set off to decide Sickles’ fate. They didn't need much time. After 70 minutes, they came back. Not guilty.

Sickles' popularity, political connections and crafty lawyers all combined to save him. He became the first defendant in America to successfully use the defense of temporary insanity. His supporters rejoiced. Sickles soon recounted the details of the shooting and casually admitted that he had every intention of killing Key.


Despite his marital woes, it was not adultery that ended his marriage but death. Teresa died in 1867 from tuberculosis. Sickles became a Union general during the Civil War and lost a leg in defense of his nation. Despite his questionable decisions at Gettysburg, he was awarded the Medal of Honor, although it took some 34 years of probable campaigning to receive it. He remarried in 1871 and had two more children, before parting ways due to his womanizing. At 93, he was accused of embezzling $27,000 from the New York State Monuments Commission, which he chaired. A year later, in 1914, he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in New York, died and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Bizarre Facts about U.S. Presidents

 Obama Descended from First Documented Slave
Barack Obama, the United States' first African-American president, is likely a descendent of the first documented enslaved African in colonial America.
According to a two-year study of thousands of records from colonial Virginia, the president is the 11th great-grandson of John Punch, a black man who came to America in the 1600s as an indentured servant and was enslaved for life in 1640 after trying to escape his servitude.
It is believed that although Obama's father was a black, Kenyan native, his ties to slavery stem instead from his white mother, Stanley Ann Dunham. The enslaved Punch had mixed-race children with a free white woman who were born free because of their mother's freedom. They later went on to become "prominent" land owners in Virginia.

George Washington Grew Cannabis
George Washington grew hemp at his home, large quantities of it and he was not the only former president to do so. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison cultivated hemp as did most other 1700's farmers.
It's believed that some of them smoked its leafy counterpart, marijuana, as well.
According to the Huffington Post, on Aug. 7, 1765, Washington noted in his farm journal that he "began to separate the male from the female hemp... rather too late." In the 1790s, the crop was grown mainly for its industrial value as hemp. It was not until many years later that the recreational use of the herb became trendy. However, founders who smoked tobacco and consumed their own brewed beer probably did not underestimate the recreational properties of the crop.

Bush, Kerry, and Hefner All Distant Cousins
Extremely coincidentally, President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry are very distantly related. They are ninth cousins, twice removed. The two politically astute and well educated men may have different political ideologies, but their love for their country and politics sheds light on a cousinly bond.
But they have another mutually distant cousin who doesn't quite fit that mould.
Playboy founder Hugh Hefner is the ninth cousin of both men. Hef is twice removed from George W., and Hefner is a slightly closer relation to Kerry, being only once removed.
When asked about his relation to the two politicians, wild child Heffner said, "Well I feel closer to Senator Kerry."
"You know I'm an 11th generation direct descendent of William Bradford, who came over on the Mayflower, a direct descendent of a Puritan," Hefner continued proudly, finding no irony in the fact. "I suppose that it is not a big surprise, but it is certainly unique to be a relation to both candidates."
"I would be delighted to invite both President Bush and Senator Kerry for a family reunion," the playboy added facetiously, laughing to himself.

Abraham Lincoln Was a Bar Owner
Abraham Lincoln, best known as the Great Emancipator, was less known for owning a bar. He co-owned the pub with a man named William Berry. The duo appropriately named their saloon 'Berry and Lincoln' which was located in Springfield, Ill.
Berry, Lincoln's partner, was a heavy drinker as opposed to the future president who once said that liquor makes him "flabby and undone." Because of these fundamental differences, the co-owners had difficulty running their business. The unlikely partnership of Berry and Lincoln did nothing but get "deeper and deeper in debt," according to Lincoln.
Lincoln's career as a bartender was fairly short-lived. In 1834, he ran for state legislator and won forcing him to give up the bartending business and in 1840 the entire enterprise was abandoned five years after the death of his partner.

Harry Truman Doesn't Have a Middle Name Despite the 'S'
The mysteriously floating S in Harry S Truman's name is not to be anchored down by a period. The former president explained that the "S" did not stand for any name but was a compromise between the names of his grandfathers, Anderson Shipp Truman and Solomon Young. In 1962, Truman initiated the "period" controversy when he demanded that newspapermen should omit the period after the S as it does not actually stand for anything.
Though Truman has tried to rectify the period that shows up in publications, explains that "Most published works using the name Harry S. Truman employ the period. Authors choosing to omit the period in their texts must still use it when citing the names of organizations that employ the period in their legal titles (e.g. Harry S. Truman Library) thus seeming to contradict themselves."

Gerald Ford Modeled During College
President Gerald Ford was a male model for John Robert Powers' agency. Though his modeling career was brief and only a part time gig during college, Ford booked a few good modeling jobs during his short lived career. He appeared in a 21-picture Stowe, Vt., ski resort feature in Look Magazine in 1940. And two years later posed in his Naval uniform on the cover of Cosmopolitan. Both times he posed with famed model and former fling Phyllis Brown.

Coolidge Liked Having Petroleum Jelly Rubbed on His Head
According to Stebben and Morris, co-authors of the book White House: Confidential, President Calvin Coolidge enjoyed having petroleum jelly slathered on his head while he ate breakfast in bed. Coolidge practiced this bizarre behavior believing that it was good for his health.

LBJ Had A Whole Family of LBJ's
The nickname LBJ isn't one that only applies for the former president. Lyndon Baines Johnson insisted on having every member of his immediate family share his same initials. LBJ's wife's name was Claudia Alta Taylor whose nickname before marrying Johnson was "Lady Bird."
LBJ and Lady Bird went on to have two daughters with the LBJ stamp, Lynda Bird and Luci Baines. Even the Johnson's dog shared the initials being called Little Beagle Johnson. According to the co-authors of White House Confidential, LBJ said, when it came to monogramming, the whole family having the same initials made it a whole lot cheaper.

Jimmy Carter the UFO President
President Jimmy Carter, known by some as the "UFO President," got his nickname by publicly claiming that he had a UFO sighting prior to becoming president. On at least one occasion while campaigning for president, Carter declared that, if elected he would "make every piece of information this country has about UFO sightings available to the public and scientists.
Jimmy Carter spotted the foreign object in the sky in 1969. "It was the darndest thing I've ever seen. It was big, it was very bright, it changed colors and it was about the size of the moon." Carter continued, "We watched it for 10 minutes, but none of us could figure out what it was. One thing's for sure, I'll never make fun of people who say they've seen unidentified objects in the sky."