At last we came to the bank of a stream (Rock Creek Park) . . . But judge of my horror when I saw the President (Theodore Roosevelt) unbutton his clothes and heard him say, 'We had better strip, so as not to wet our things in the Creek.' Then I, too, for the honor of France, removed my apparel, everything except my lavender Kid gloves. The President cast an inquiring look at these as if they, too, must come off, but I quickly forestalled any remark by saying. With your permission, Mr. President, I will keep these on; otherwise it would be embarrassing if we should meet ladies."
- from a dispatch by Henn Jusserand, the French minster, as recounted in "The City of Washington, an Illustrated History."
Washington is a city of good stories and grand views, not all told nor often seen. The stories and the pictures are not only in the great repositories of information such as the Library of Congress and the National Archive. Some of the best are hidden in lace handkerchies in silver jewelry boxes or pressed between the leaves of family Bibles, or behind secret combinations in wall safes.
To extract this secret illustrated history of Washington takes a particularly type of historian or reporter if you will. One hundred members of the Junior League, led by Douglas Woods Sprunt, made up just the right research team, with entree into family collections essential for such a project.
The results is "The City of Washington, an illustrated History," a large format book of 384 pages, 700 illustrations. The book, thanks to the efforts of Thomas Frencek, the editor for the publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, has plenty of basic information, says Judith Waldrop Frank, the League's principal writer and editor. And as such, it could serve well as as a textbook for the study of the city.
But the general overview is not its chief charm for those with a lover's obsession with every fact of the city's past. More fascinating are the eyewitness accounts by bystanders at history's great events, the tidbits of history, so often overlooked in the tidier tomes.
The book also establishes that far from being "a boarding house of a city" as it has been called, the town does have its first families. Some of the names of those who were here at the beginning are still perpetuated not only on street signs, but also in telephone books.
Baron Christophle De Graffrenried, for i [WORD ILLEGIBLE] explored and mapped the Washington area in 1711. A Washington descendant still carries the name Tscharner, the maiden name of the barch's wife, Ninian Beall's descendants in this area numbered 70,000, including two U.S. senators and four governors, Blagdon Street comes from the Blagden Mill.
The great lost mansions of the city are here recalled: the Van Ness mansion where the Pan American Building is now: Rock Hill near S and 24th Streets; Henderson Castle on Meridian Hill; Kalorama, which gave its name to the area; Analostan, on what is now Roosevelt Island. And the log cabin built by the poet Joaquin Miller, who said "The President's house is at one end of 16th Street and mine is at the other, but while I own a cabin, the President has only his cabinet." Miller, an early do-it-yourself, built his log cabin himself.
Juicy scandal is reported in the book: The speculation as to the virtue of Elizabeth Parke Custis, (granddaughter to Martha Washington) who became the city's first divorcee. The converstation about Dr. Mary Walker, a Civil War physician and dress reformer, who, according to an Alexandrian of the time: "Was arrested several times for masquerading in men's clothing: this even after Congress had bestowed upon her the right to wear trousers. Her costume was certainly misleading and at times she created considerable consternation by appearing suddenly in ladies' dressing rooms about town."
More serious reports are found in contemporary writings: the Southern sympathizers caught in the capital during the "War for Southern Independence." Elizabeth Lindsay Lomax wrote that her son said in a letter to a classmate: "As long as I could believe in a war on the Union and the flag I was willing to stay, but it is a war between sections - the North and the South - and I must go with my own people. I beg of you not to let my decision alter the friendship between us." And Marietta Minnigerode Andrews who watched the 1913 suffragette parade from her balcony because her husband wouldn't let her march. He called suffragists "hyenas in petticoats."
The book does not neglect the city's black population and leaders. Besides such well-known figures as Benjamin Bannecker, it reminds us of Patrick J. Healy, S.J., president of Georgetown University, from 1874 to 1882, and Mary Church Terrell, a black civic leader, pictured at 89, with a placard protesting a "Jim Crow Dime Store."
The book will be introduced during the Junior League's annual Christmas Shop at the Madison Hotel, Wednesday through Friday. Profits from copies sold at the shop will go to the League's community work. The League also will receive a royalty on those sold in regular bookshops.
The best stories in Wasington are always those told around dinner tables. "The City of Washington" records some of the best - if not the latest.