By Edward Epstein
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
Back in the April-May 1986 issue of American Heritage magazine, the great David McCullough -- author of numerous mega-selling volumes on U.S. history -- recounted why "I Love Washington."
Among the top reasons he gave in his article was that the capital city was awash in Lincoln. "I am struck more and more by the presence of Abraham Lincoln. He is all around," he wrote.
"It is almost as though the city should be renamed for him. Most powerful, of course, is the effect of Daniel Chester French's majestic statue within the Memorial, our largest, and I suppose, our most beloved public sculpture."
He then goes on list the various Lincoln statues and busts in the district, the grand portraits in the National Portrait Gallery and in the White House's State Dining Room, Lincoln's Cottage at the Soldiers' Home, the Lincoln Bedroom in the White House, Lincoln's pew at St. John's Episcopal Church across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, Ford's Theater and Petersen House.
He also points out that the bed President Woodrow Wilson dies on in 1924 at his S Street home was a copy of the bed from the Lincoln Bedroom.
But McCullough omits mention of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, where Lincoln worshipped and where his pew is also memorialized and where his family donated items still used by the congregation.
In another passage, McCullough recounts poet Walt Whitman's habit of stationing himself at Vermont Avenue and L Street NW to see the president pass on his way to and from the Soldiers' Home. He writes that Whitman recalled seeing Lincoln dressed in black, "somewhat rusty and dusty" on a "good-sized, easy-going gray horse" and looking "about as ordinary" as the commonest man.
"I see very plainly Abraham Lincoln's dark brown face, with the deep-cut lines, the eyes, always to me with a deep latent sadness in the expression," Whitman wrote. "We have got so that we exchange bows, and very cordial ones."
Times change, of course, and McCullough wrote long before the Lincoln Restaurant opened on Vermont Avenue just a few steps north of L Street. Its motto: "Food for the people. By the people."