Monday, March 31, 2008
I was going through a stack of assorted papers and found the Metro Section of the Friday, September 7, 2007 edition of the Washington Post. The story at the top of the page was on the death of Effie Barry, the first of three wives of former DC Mayor Marion Barry. Effie was lauded for her ever-present class and dignity, as well as her courtroom demeanor during Marion’s trial after he was busted for crack cocaine in 1990. Say what you will about Marion, who became the butt of national jokes, but he never so much as lifted a pencil from a City supply room. His cronies may have hauled away truckloads of pencils, but Marion, never. His 1994 campaign, which restored him to the District’s highest office for a fourth term, should be studied by Political Science students the same way that military scientists study Lee’s victory over Hooker at Chancellorsville.
Underneath, in the far right column, was a piece on a D.C. landlord who had been charged with 2,861 housing code violations. His 22 unit building was described by a City attorney as “atrocious” and “unsafe in every way.” The City had been after the owner for years, slapping him with one citation after another. He kept doing what every red-blooded American slumlord would do, handed them out to his tenants so they could patch holes in walls, windows, and soak up the run off from toilets when it poured through the ceilings from upstairs apartments.
Those stories weren’t the reason I kept the paper. Centered in the middle of the page and continuing on page six was a story on the National Park Service packing up the clothing Abraham Lincoln was wearing the night he was shot and transporting the garments, under police escort, to a storage facility in Maryland. The items, including shin high “square-toed, goatskin boots…worn down at the heels,” will be returned to Ford’s Theater when an 18 month renovation is completed in the spring of 2009.
The wardrobe included a double-breasted “long, black frock coat,” with “plain gray metal” buttons, a black silk tie, and “black broadcloth pants,” the knees of which were stained with blood.
Gloria Swift, museum curator at Ford’s Theater, who supervised the packing, said of the unadorned clothing “There’s nothing presidential. This is your typical well-dressed man’s suit of 1865.” The overcoat Lincoln draped over his shoulders or on the back of his chair was made especially for his second inauguration. Its black lining was embroidered with “an eagle, shields and the words ‘One Country, One Destiny.’”
“It’s almost undescribable,” Swift remarked, about the opportunity to touch a piece of history. “It is very chilling in some cases, knowing what you’re handing…And it’s also very exciting. Because to me the objects are a true connection to the past…They’re not just things. These are real items [linked] to a real story.”
Marius Horgos, a native of Romania and a member of the moving crew related his “palms were sweaty…Lincoln is a very special figure. He freed the African American people. Even my voice is shaking.” Thomas Blichard, another of the moving crew, was looking forward to telling his grandsons of his experience. “I’ll be able to tell them both I’ve seen it with my own two eyes. This is a historical day for me.”