Podcast Episodes

Toward a Dark and Indefinite Shore

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted and written by Jason Epperson, with narration from Abigail Trabue.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

That’s the conclusion of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address. It’s not Lincoln’s most famous speech, but it’s close, and those last words are as fine as anything he ever wrote or spoke. A month later, the war was over after the surrender at Appomattox.

Lincoln waited two days to speak. He opened, “we meet this evening, not in sorrow, but in gladness of heart.”

“Gladness of heart” was something quite different from happiness. Lincoln was looking ahead to the reconstruction of the nation, but it would take place without him.

His would-be assassin, a notable stage actor, was at both speeches, biding his time until the moment arrived on his home turf.

Ford’s Theatre was first constructed in 1833 as the First Baptist Church. In 1859, the structure was abandoned as a place of worship. John T. Ford, a theatre entrepreneur from Baltimore, leased the building in 1861. A church board member predicted a dire fate would fall anyone who turned the former house of worship into a theatre. In 1862, Ford renovated the theatre and performances began, setting in motion events to follow that would shake America to its core.


John Wilkes Booth was born in Maryland into a family of prominent stage actors, including his older brother Edwin, the greatest actor of his time. John became a famous actor too and national celebrity in his own right, in fact, Abraham Lincoln, was a big fan. He had seen him previously in a play at Ford’s Theater and had repeatedly invited him, without success, to visit the White House.

Booth was no fan of Lincoln, however, a fact which had eluded the President. During the civil war, he was an outspoken Confederate sympathizer.

In March 1864, Ulysses S. Grant, then commander of the Union armies, suspended the exchange of prisoners of war with the Confederate Army to increase pressure on the South, who were strapped for men.

Booth decided to get involved. He concocted a plan to kidnap Lincoln, with the goal of holding him hostage until prisoner exchanges resumed. He recruited five men to help — Samuel Arnold, George Atzerodt, David Herold, Michael O’Laughlen, Lewis Powell, and John Surratt. On March 17, the conspirators planned to abduct Lincoln as he returned from a play at Campbell Military Hospital, but the President changed his plans at the last minute and instead attended a ceremony at the National Hotel. In a strange twist of fate, Booth was living at the National Hotel at the time. Had he not gone to the hospital for the failed kidnap attempt, he might have been successful.

As the war drew toward a conclusion, Booth continued to believe in the Confederate cause and sought a way to salvage it. Meanwhile, he attended Lincoln’s speech at the White House in which he promoted voting rights for blacks. Booth said that it would be the last speech Lincoln would ever give. It wasn’t. In fact, Booth also attended Lincoln’s second inaugural in the closing days of the war.

Meanwhile, Abraham Lincoln told of a dream he had. One in which he entered the white house to see mourners and a military guard. He asked someone who had died. “The President,” came the response.

On the morning of April 14, 1865, Lincoln told people how happy he felt. He told his cabinet that he had dreamed of being on a “singular and indescribable vessel that was moving with great rapidity toward a dark and indefinite shore.” A dream, according to Lincoln, he’d before “nearly every great and important event of the War.”

While visiting Ford’s Theatre in daylight to pick up some mail, Booth learned that Lincoln and Grant were to see the play “Our American Cousin” that night. No stranger to the staff and layout of the theater, Booth knew the perfect opportunity to attack Lincoln had presented itself.

The conspirators met at 7 p.m. Booth assigned Lewis Powell to kill Secretary of State William H. Seward at his home, with David E. Herold as a guide. Meanwhile, George Atzerodt would kill Vice President Andrew Johnson at the Kirkwood Hotel.

Booth planned to shoot Lincoln at point-blank range with his single-shot Deringer, after which he’d stab Grant. The conspirators would simultaneously strike shortly after ten o’clock.

Despite what Booth had heard, General Grant and his wife, Julia had declined the invitation. Major Henry Rathbone and his fiancée Clara Harris would accompany the Lincolns. Mary Lincoln had developed a headache and intended to stay home, but Lincoln told her he must attend because newspapers had announced that he would.

The president arrived late to the play, which was haldted for the orchestra to play “Hail to the Chief” for the 1,700 standing spectators. Lincoln sat in a rocking chair that had been selected for him from among the Ford family’s personal furnishings.

Policeman John Frederick Parker was assigned to guard the President’s box. At intermission, he went to a nearby tavern along with Lincoln’s footman and coachman and was not at his post. Navy Surgeon George Brainerd Todd saw Booth arrive, saying: About 10:25 pm, a man came in walking slowly and I heard a man say, “There’s Booth” and I turned my head to look at him. He was still walking very slow and was near the box door when he stopped, took a card from his pocket, wrote something on it, and gave it to the usher who took it to the box. In a minute the door was opened and he walked in.”

Once through the door, Booth barricaded it by wedging it with a brace he had prepared. A second door led to Lincoln’s box.

Booth knew the play by heart and waited to time his shot with one of the best lines of the play, one which was sure to get a loud laugh. He opened the door, stepped forward, and shot from behind with a derringer while Lincoln was laughing.

Lincoln slumped over in his chair and then fell backward. Rathbone turned to see Booth standing in gunsmoke and jumped from his seat wrestling the pistol away. Booth drew a knife and stabbed him in the left forearm. Booth jumped 12 feet from the box to the stage. His riding spur became caught on the flag decorating the box, causing him to land awkwardly on his left foot. He began to cross the stage, and many in the audience thought it was part of the play.

Booth held his bloody knife over his head, and yelled “Sic Semper Tyrannus!,” a phrase Marcus Brutus utters after killing Julius Ceasar. It means “thus always to tyrants.” He followed it in English with “The South is avenged!”

Booth ran across the stage and exited through a side door, stabbing the orchestra leader on the way. He escaped on a horse he had waiting in the alleyway.

Army surgeon Charles Leale was in attendance that night, and after the commotion, he drove through the crowd to Lincoln’s box but couldn’t open the door. Rathbone noticed and removed the wooden brace Booth used to jam it shut.

Leale found Lincoln with his head in Mary’s arms. “His eyes were closed and he was in a profoundly comatose condition, while his breathing was intermittent and exceedingly stertorous,” “he said. Thinking Lincoln had been stabbed, Leale shifted him to the floor. Meanwhile, another physician, Charles Sabin Taft, was lifted from the stage into the box.

After Taft and Leale opened Lincoln’s shirt and found no stab wound, they found the gunshot wound. The bullet was too deep to be removed, but they were able to dislodge a clot, after which Lincoln’s breathing improved. They decided that Lincoln must be moved, but a carriage ride to the White House was too dangerous. They took the President to one of the houses across the road, that of tailor William Petersen. It rained as soldiers carried Lincoln into the street. In Petersen’s first-floor bedroom, the exceptionally tall Lincoln was laid diagonally on the bed.

More physicians arrived, all agreeing that the wound was mortal. Throughout the night, as the hemorrhage continued, they removed blood clots to relieve pressure on the brain. Eldest son Robert Todd Lincoln arrived sometime after midnight but twelve-year-old Tad Lincoln was kept away.

Lincoln died at 7:22 a.m. on April 15. According to Lincoln’s secretary John Hay, at the moment of Lincoln’s death, “a look of unspeakable peace came upon his worn features.”

Ten days prior, Secretary of State William H. Seward had been thrown from his carriage, suffering a concussion, a broken jaw, and a broken arm. On the night of the assassination, he was confined to bed at his home in Lafayette Park. As Booth was making his way to the Ford Theatre, David Herold was guiding Lewis Powell to Seward’s house. One of Seward’s servants answered the door and Powell told him he had medicine from Seward’s physician, and that his instructions were to personally show him how to take it. Powell was admitted and made his way up the stairs. At the top of the staircase he was stopped by Seward’s son, Assistant Secretary of State Frederick W. Seward, who, suspicious, said his father was asleep. Daughter Fanny emerged from a room and said, “Fred, Father is awake now” – revealing to Powell where Sewards location. Powell turned as if to start downstairs but suddenly drew his revolver. He aimed at Frederick’s forehead and pulled the trigger, but the gun misfired. He knocked Frederick unconscious with it, instead.

Powell then went in the room and stabbed at Seward’s face and neck, but the splint doctors had fitted to his broken jaw prevented the blade from penetrating deeply, saving his life. Seward’s son Augustus and Sergeant George F. Robinson, a soldier assigned to the home, were alerted by Fanny’s screams and rushed into the bedroom. Both received stab wounds struggling with Powell. As Augustus went for a pistol, Powell ran toward the door, where he encountered a State Department messenger and stabbed him in the back. He then ran down the stairs and out the door. Once outside, he exclaimed, “I’m mad! I’m mad!”. Whether that was a code to alert Herold, or an attempt to frighten pedestrians outside remains unclear, regardless, by the time Powell made his way out of the house, Herold had already ran off, leaving him to find his own way in an unfamiliar city.

George Atzerodt, meanwhile, had rented a room directly above Vice President Andrew Johnson, who was staying at the Kirkwood House in Washington. Carrying a gun and knife, he went to the bar downstairs, where he tried to get his courage up. He eventually became drunk and wandered off through the streets.

Within half an hour of the shooting, Booth crossed the Navy Yard Bridge into Maryland where an army sentry questioned him about his late-night travel. Although it was forbidden for civilians to cross the bridge after 9 pm, the sentry let him through. David Herold went across the same bridge less than an hour later. After retrieving weapons and supplies they had stored away, Herold and Booth went to the home of Samuel A. Mudd, a local doctor, who splinted the leg Booth had broken jumping from the presidential box.

After a day at Mudd’s house, Booth and Herold hired a local man to guide them to Samuel Cox’s house. Cox took them to Thomas Jones, who hid them in a swamp for five days until they could cross the Potomac River. On the afternoon of April 24th, they arrived at a tobacco farm in King George County, Virginia. Booth told the owner he was a wounded Confederate soldier.

The hunt for the conspirators quickly became the largest in U.S. history, involving thousands of federal troops, who tracked them to the farm.

Booth and Herold were sleeping on April 26th when soldiers surrounded the barn, then threatened to set fire to it. Herold surrendered, but Booth cried out, “I will not be taken alive!” The soldiers set fire to the barn sending Booth scrambling for the back door with a rifle and pistol.

Sergeant Boston Corbett crept up behind the barn and shot Booth in the back of the head, almost exactly where he shot Lincoln. He died on the porch of the farm two hours later.

The remaining conspirators were arrested by month’s end – except for John Surratt, who fled to Quebec then Europe until a friend from his school days recognized him in there in early 1866 and alerted the U.S. government. He was finally captured in Egypt in November 1866.

Mourners lined up seven abreast for a mile to view Lincoln in his walnut casket in the black-draped East Room of the White House. Special trains brought thousands from other cities, some of whom slept on the Capitol’s lawn. Hundreds of thousands watched the funeral procession, and millions more lined the 1,700-mile route of the train that took Lincoln’s remains to Springfield, Illinois.


Following the assassination, the government appropriated the theater, with Congress paying Ford $88,000 in compensation. An order was issued forever prohibiting its use as a place of public amusement. Between 1866 and 1887, the theater was taken over by the U.S. military and served as a facility for the War Department with records kept on the first floor, the Library of the Surgeon General’s Office on the second floor, and the Army Medical Museum on the third. In 1887, the building exclusively became a clerk’s office for the War Department, when the medical departments moved out.

On June 9, 1893, the front part of the building collapsed, killing 22 clerks and injuring another 68. This led some to believe the facility was cursed. The building was repaired and used as a government warehouse until 1911.

A Lincoln museum opened on the first floor of the theater building in 1932, and in the following year, it was transferred to the new National Park Service.

In 1964, Congress approved funds for the building’s complete restoration, which began that year and was completed in 1968. Ford’s theater became a venue for live entertainment again. Vice President Hubert Humphrey dedicated the restored theater at a gala performance.

The theater was again renovated during the 2000s. The re-opening ceremony was on February 11, 2009, to commemorate Lincoln’s 200th birthday. The event featured President Barack Obama, Katie Couric, Kelsey Grammer, James Earl Jones, Ben Vereen, the President’s Own Marine Band, Broadway star Audra McDonald and more.

The Ford’s Theatre Museum beneath the theater contains Lincoln artifacts, including some related to the assassination, like the Derringer pistol used to carry out the shooting, Booth’s diary, the original door to Lincoln’s theater box, and the blood-stained pillow from the President’s deathbed.

Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site is open every day except for Thanksgiving Day and December 25. Tickets are free and required for entry. The theatre is an active performing arts venue, and there are times when it is closed for matinees, rehearsals and special events. In most cases, the museum and Petersen House, where Lincoln died, will remain open even if the theater is closed for performances.

A performance is another opportunity to see the historic theater. Regular runs of exceptional quality plays and musicals can be attended by anyone willing to purchase a ticket. The presidential box is never occupied.



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Podcast Episodes

A Great Obelisk

In 1833, a small organization formed with the purpose to fund and build a monument “unparalleled in the world” in honor of once commander-in-chief of the Continental Army and the first President of the United States. Its completion, and its history, not unlike the Statue of Liberty, were fraught with funding issues, construction delays, and outside forces seemingly teamed against it. Today on America’s National Parks, the Washington Monument, part of the National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington, D.C.

As far back as the victory in the Revolutionary War, proposals began flooding in to commemorate American hero George Washington. In 1783, the Continental Congress had determined “That an equestrian statue of George Washington be erected at the place where the residence of Congress shall be established.” But it wasn’t until his death in 1799 that a different type of monument would be considered. John Marshall, a Representative from Virginia, who later became Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, proposed that a tomb be erected within the Capitol. A lack of funds and disagreements over what type of vision for the memorial, coupled with the Washington family’s hesitation to move him stalled the idea. Still, Congress authorized a suitable memorial in the capital, but the decision was reversed when the Jeffersonian Republicans took control of Congress in 1801. Washington had become the symbol of the Federalist Party, their adversaries, and they were reluctant to construct an effigy in his honor. They also blocked his image on coins and the celebration of his birthday.

In 1833, a group of private citizens formed the Washington National Monument Society, and began raising funds. By 1836 they had raised $28,000 in donations, about $1,000,000 today, at which point a competition for the design of the memorial was announced.

“It is proposed that the contemplated monument shall be like him in whose honor it is to be constructed, unparalleled in the world, and commensurate with the gratitude, liberality, and patriotism of the people by whom it is to be erected” said the announcement. “[It] should blend stupendousness with elegance, and be of such magnitude and beauty as to be an object of pride to the American people, and of admiration to all who see it. Its material is intended to be wholly American, and to be of marble and granite brought from each state, that each state may participate in the glory of contributing material as well as in funds to its construction.”

For the following decade, designs were solicited and more money was raised, until a winner was chosen, Architect Robert Mills. Mill’s design described a circular building 250 feet in diameter and 100 feet high from which raised a four-sided obelisk, another 500 feet tall. The obelisk was to be 70 feet square at the base and 40 feet square at the top with a slightly peaked roof. The top of the portico of the building would feature Washington standing in a chariot holding the reins of six horses. Inside the colonnade would be statues of 30 prominent Revolutionary War heroes, and statues of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

With costs estimated at $20 Million in today’s dollars, however, it would be nearly impossible to fund. Mills made some design modifications to cut costs, and construction began on the Washington Monument in 1848, with funding still lagging. The cornerstone was laid on July 4 with nearly 20,000 people in attendance including President James K. Polk, Dolley Madison, Eliza Hamilton, and future presidents Buchanan, Lincoln, and Johnson. Builders started work on the foundation, an 80-foot square step pyramid. With the substructure completed, the builders then proceeded to the above-ground marble structure, using a system of pulleys, block and tackle systems, and a hoist to place the stones. By 1854, the monument had reached a height of 156 feet above ground.

In the previous year, a new group aligned with the controversial Know-Nothing Party gained control of the Washington National Monument Society. The change in administration alienated donors and drove the Society to bankruptcy. Without funds, work on the monument halted, and then the following year, Architect Robert Mills died. For more than two decades, the monument stood only partly finished, an embarrassment on the front lawn of the nation. Attempts were made from within Congress to intercede, but as the civil war loomed, they all failed. Not until the patina of history set in would our first president’s memorial be picked up again, when the country put itself back together after the Civil War.

A joint resolution passed both houses of Congress on July 5, 1876, which assumed the duty to fund and complete the Washington Monument. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, led by Lt. Col. Thomas Lincoln Casey, was responsible for directing and completing the work. Casey’s first task was to strengthen the foundation of the monument, which he determined was inadequate for the structure as it was designed. For four years, builders shored up the foundation.

The quarry near Baltimore used for the stone during the initial construction had long been shuttered. A quarry in Massachusetts looked like a possible color match, but problems quickly arose with the quality and color of the stone, and the irregularity of deliveries. After adding several rows of this stone—a brown-streaked line one-third of the way up the monument—the builders shifted to a quarry near Baltimore that provided the stone for the upper two-thirds of the structure. The three slightly different colors from the three quarries are clearly visible today.

Casey reduced the height of the structure to ten times the width of the base, 555 feet. Plans for all the ornate embellishments and the ring of columns were scrapped in favor of what we see today: the simple, 4-sided obelisk. He also reduced the thickness of the walls from thirteen feet to nine feet between the 150 and 160 foot levels, visible in the monument’s interior. A steam-powered elevator was used to lift six tons of stone up to a movable 20-foot-tall iron frame.

470 feet above the ground, builders began angling buttresses inward to support the marble pyramid which rests at the top of the monument. On December 6, 1884, Lt. Col. Casey supervised as the 3,300-pound capstone was brought out through one of the windows, hoisted to the scaffolding at the tip of the monument, and set in place. He then placed the 8.9-inch aluminum tip that sits upon the capstone as crowds cheered below. The Washington Monument was complete, and it was the tallest building in the world at 555 feet, 5.125 inches.

An iron staircase was build in the monument’s interior, and it was opened to the public in 1886, For six months after its dedication, 10,041 people climbed the 900 steps and 47 large landings to the top. After the elevator that had been used to raise building materials was altered to carry passengers, the number of visitors grew rapidly, and an average of 55,000 people per month were going to the top by 1888. Visitors could view memorial stones inset in the walls from various individuals, civic groups, cities, states, and countries from around the world.

The original steam-driven elevator, with a trip time of 10-12 minutes to the top of the monument, was replaced with an electric elevator in 1901.

In the early 1900s, material began to ooze out between the outer stones below the 150-foot mark, referred to by tourists as “geological tuberculosis.” It was caused by the weathering of the cement and rubble filler between the outer and inner walls. As the lower section of the monument was exposed to cold and hot and damp and dry weather conditions, the material dissolved and worked its way through the cracks between the stones of the outer wall, solidifying as it dripped down their outer surface.

The National Park Service was given jurisdiction over the Monument in 1933, after which the first restoration of the structure began as a Depression-Era public works project.

For ten hours in December 1982, eight tourists were held hostage in the monument by Norman Mayer, a nuclear arms protester. Mayer claimed to have explosives in a van he drove up to the monument’s base. U.S. Park Police shot and killed Mayer, and it was discovered later that the the van did not contain a bomb. The surrounding grounds were modified to restrict the unauthorized approach of motor vehicles.

The monument underwent an extensive restoration project in the late 90s. It was completely covered in scaffolding as the stonework was, cleaned, repaired, and repointed. The stone in publicly accessible interior spaces was encased in glass to prevent vandalism, while new windows with narrower frames were installed to increase the viewing space. New exhibits celebrating the life of George Washington, and the monument’s place in history were also added. A new elevator cab included glass windows, allowing visitors to see some of the 194 memorial stones embedded in the monument’s walls.

Just three years after the restoration, the monument closed for another renovation, which included numerous security upgrades and redesign of the grounds due to security concerns following 9/11.


“The storms of winter must blow and beat upon it … the lightnings of Heaven may scar and blacken it. An earthquake may shake its foundations … but the character which it commemorates and illustrates is secure” shared Robert Winthrop at the dedication on February 21, 1885, a day before Washington’s birthday. It’s a quote that would be an omen of things to come.

At 1:51 p.m. on August 23, 2011, the Washington Monument shook forcefully for nearly three minutes as a magnitude 5.8 earthquake struck 90 miles southwest of Washington, D.C. Visitors inside the observation deck were thrown about by the force of the quake; falling mortar and pieces of stone caused minor injuries, but all the people inside exited safely. Over 150 cracks were found in the monument. Pieces of stone, stone chips, mortar, and paint chips came free of the monument and littered the interior stairs and observation deck. Two days later, Hurricane Irene hit Washington DC, and water streamed into the monument. It was in danger of complete collapse. The National Park Service announced that the Washington Monument would be closed indefinitely.

After over three years of repairs, the Washington Monument re-opened to visitors on May 12, 2014. Repairs cost $15 million, with taxpayers funding half and philanthropist David Rubenstein picking up the rest of the tab. But the monument was still plagued with problems. The earthquake had cause the elevator system to become unreliable, and just two years after re-opening, the Washington monument closed again. The $3 million project is ongoing today, this time entirely funded by David Rubenstein.

The Washington Monument, if you dare plan a visit with the intention of actually getting a chance to go inside, is scheduled to re-open in the spring of 2019.

Each year, millions of people visit the National Mall and Memorial Parks to celebrate presidential legacies, to honor our nation’s veterans, and to celebrate our nation’s history. For more than 200 years, the National Mall has symbolized our nation’s democratic values.

The great swath of green in the middle of our capital city is an exciting visit, but be prepared for lots of walking, and very expensive or non-existent parking. Luckily, DC has a great public transportation system that you’d be wise to take advantage of. If you’re flying staying in a DC hotel, you can usually just avoid getting a rental car altogether. Many campgrounds and suburban hotels have shuttles that will link you up with the DC metro train system. Wear comfortable shoes, and be prepared for any weather.


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Music

Music for this week’s episode is provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

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Podcast Episodes

A White House Burns

One of the very symbols of our nation is a residence for our highest elected official, designed by Irish-born architect James Hoban in the neoclassical style, using sandstone painted white. When Thomas Jefferson moved into the house in 1801, he and architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe added low colonnades on each wing that concealed stables and storage. Not long after, the house for our Nation’s president would almost be obliterated.

Today on America’s National Parks, The White House, part of the National Park Service’s Presidents Park, in Washington DC.

Listen

Listen in the player below, or on any podcast app. 


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Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode.

President’s Park – National Park Service Website


Transcript

One of the very symbols of our nation is a residence for our highest elected official, designed by Irish-born architect James Hoban in the neoclassical style. Hoban modeled the building on Leinster House in Dublin, a building which today houses the Oireachtas, the Irish legislature. Construction took place between 1792 and 1800 using sandstone painted white. When Thomas Jefferson moved into the house in 1801, he and architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe added low colonnades on each wing that concealed stables and storage. Not long after, the house for our Nation’s president would almost be obliterated.

Today on America’s National Parks, The White House, part of the National Park Service’s Presidents Park, in Washington DC.

With more on the early years of the enduring symbol of the leader of the free world, here’s Rosie Teverow from the National Park Service.



Burn marks are still visible on the White House today. Reconstruction began almost immediately, and President James Monroe moved into the partially reconstructed Executive Residence – it’s original name – in October 1817. Exterior construction continued with the addition of the semi-circular South portico in 1824 and the North portico in 1829.

As the presidency modernized, the White House was nearly always too small for its function. Overcrowding led President Theodore Roosevelt to have all work offices relocated to the newly constructed West Wing in 1901. Eight years later in 1909, President William Howard Taft expanded the West Wing and created the first Oval Office, which was eventually moved as the section was expanded. In the main mansion, the third-floor attic was converted to living quarters in 1927 by augmenting the existing hip roof with long shed dormers. A newly constructed East Wing was used as a reception area for social events; Jefferson’s colonnades connected the new wings. East Wing alterations were completed in 1946, creating additional office space.

By 1948, the residence’s load-bearing exterior walls and internal wood beams were found to be close to failure. Under Harry S. Truman, the interior rooms were completely dismantled and a new internal load-bearing steel frame constructed inside the walls. Once this work was completed, the interior rooms were rebuilt.

The modern-day White House complex includes the Executive Residence, the West Wing, the East Wing, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which houses offices for the President’s staff and the Vice President, and Blair House, a guest residence. The Executive Residence is made up of six stories—the Ground Floor, State Floor, Second Floor, and Third Floor, as well as a two-story basement. The property is a National Heritage Site owned by the National Park Service as part of the President’s Park.

If you want to visit the White House, there are some things you need to know. First off, you can’t get very close on the outside. The South Lawn can be viewed from a walkway along the fence, a good football field’s length from the actual building. Pennsylvania Avenue on the north side of the building is generally shut down to vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

The National Park Service does not schedule White House tours or provide tickets to enter the White House. Public tour requests must be submitted through your Member of Congress. These self-guided tours are generally available Tuesday through Saturday (excluding federal holidays or unless otherwise noted). Tours are scheduled on a first come, first served basis. Requests can be submitted up to three months in advance and no less than 21 days in advance. You are encouraged to submit your request as early as possible as a limited number of spaces are available. The White House tour is free of charge, but also subject to last minute cancellation.

The new White House Visitor Center is a couple blocks away to the southeast. Here you’ll find an accessible building with approximately 100 historical artifacts, interpretive panels, looping videos of photos and archival footage, and interactive elements for visitors of all ages.

Even though this building is not on the White House campus, a security screening is required to enter, just like at the Airport.

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted by me, Jason Epperson, and narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to subscribe, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.” You can also join our new America’s National Parks Facebook group. We’ll link to all of our social media, as well as National Park Service resources, music credits, and more in the show notes at National Park Podcast dot com.

If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast. You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com.

Today’s show was sponsored by L.L.Bean, follow the hashtag #beanoutsider, and visit LLBean.com to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.


Music

Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

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Podcast Episodes

A Gift from Tokyo

Each spring, an abundance of winter-weary locals and tourists flock to our nation’s capital, hoping to see the blossoming beauty of the famed Japanese cherry trees. You may know that the original trees were a gift from Japan in 1912 symbolizing international friendship, but you may not know that they are also a testament to one woman’s persistence and the value of never giving up on a dream.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington D.C.

Listen

Listen in the player below, or on any podcast app. 


Connect & Subscribe

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.


Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode.

National Cherry Blossom Festival – Non-profit festival organization

Cherry Blossoms – NPS Website


Transcript

Each spring, an abundance of winter-weary locals and tourists flock to our nation’s capital, hoping to see the blossoming beauty of the famed Japanese cherry trees. You may know that the original trees were a gift from Japan in 1912 symbolizing international friendship, but you may not know that they are also a testament to one woman’s persistence and the value of never giving up on a dream.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington D.C.

Here’s Abigail Trabue.


In 1885, 29-year old Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore returned to the United States following her first visit to Japan, where her brother George worked for the US Consular Service. While there, she developed a great appreciation for the Japanese people, culture, and the beauty of the Japanese flowering cherry trees. She brought back with her a desire to introduce the beauty of Japanese cherry blossoms to the American people.

Upon returning to Washington, DC and resuming her life as an author, travel writer, newspaper correspondent, and photographer, Scidmore began promoting her idea of planting flowering cherry trees in Potomac Park on land recently reclaimed from the Potomac River. As she explained in a 1928 newspaper article in the Washington Sunday Star, “…since they had to plant something in that great stretch of raw, reclaimed ground by the river bank, since they had to hide those old dump heaps with something, they might as well plant the most beautiful thing in the world—the Japanese cherry tree.”

Over the next 24 years, she presented her idea to every Superintendent of Public Buildings and Grounds, but her pleas were met with little interest.

One superintendent turned down her request, expressing concern that policemen would have to be in the park day and night when the cherries were ripe to keep boys from climbing the trees and breaking the branches. When she explained that the types of trees she was proposing produced only blossoms, not cherries, she recalled receiving the following response: “What! No cherries! No cherries! Huff! What good is that sort of cherry tree?” (The trees do produce a small inedible dark cherry sometimes eaten by birds.)

Scidmore recalled that her requests “were of no avail, no matter how fervent, long or often repeated to successive indifferent and obdurate Superintendents of Public Buildings and Grounds.”

During the later years of her efforts, Department of Agriculture Plant Explorer David Fairchild began experimenting with and advocating for the introduction of Japanese flowering cherry trees in the United States. Following the successful planting of several varieties on his personal property in Chevy Chase, MD and in the neighboring area, he began promoting the idea of planting Japanese flowering cherry trees along avenues in the nation’s capital. His efforts included supplying cherry trees to children to plant in Washington, DC schoolyards on Arbor Day in 1908.

On the day preceding the event, Scidmore talked with Fairchild about her dream of planting Japanese cherry trees on the newly reclaimed land of Potomac Park. Fairchild expressed enthusiasm for her idea, and invited Scidmore to attend the lecture he would be presenting at the conclusion of the Arbor Day event. At this event, he publicly promoted the idea of planting cherry trees along the Speedway (a popular roadway in Potomac Park, in the area of present day Independence Avenue.)

Both Scidmore and Fairchild began working on plans to acquire trees for the park. At the White House, First Lady Helen Taft was working on plans to beautify this area.
Fairchild offered to import Japanese cherry trees for the project.

Scidmore developed a plan to solicit annual subscriptions of one dollar from travelers who had personally experienced the beauty of the trees. She hoped to then be able to donate 100 trees each year, so that after ten years, “there would be a great showing in Potomac Park–a rosy tunnel of interlaced branches, a veritable Mukojima along the river’s bank.” She then sent a note to First Lady Taft, requesting her approval for the plan and assistance in acquiring the trees.

At long last, Scidmore experienced success. Two days after sending her note, she received a positive response from the First Lady. Not only did Taft like the idea, she immediately made arrangements to acquire some cherry trees for Potomac Park. The First Lady had also spent time in Japan where she had experienced firsthand the beauty of the cherry blossoms.

The day after Taft’s letter was written, noted Japanese chemist Dr. Takamine Jokichi learned of the plan to acquire cherry trees for America’s capital city. He was in Washington, DC at the time with New York’s Japanese consul general Kokichi Mizuno. Takamine asked Mizuno to inquire whether Mrs. Taft would accept a gift of 2,000 trees for the city. The consul general liked the idea and suggested donating the trees in the name of Tokyo. Takamine generously agreed, and Mrs. Taft accepted the offer.

The cherry trees were shipped across the ocean to Seattle and arrived in Washington, D.C. in 1910. A major setback occurred when U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors discovered that the trees were diseased and infested with insects. Following thorough inspections, USDA officials advised that the trees be burned to prevent harm to native plants.

Such an awkward situation was handled most graciously by Japanese officials. Not deterred, Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki and other officials quickly made arrangements for a new gift of 3,020 trees. Twelve varieties of trees were prepared and carefully monitored to ensure that they were free of diseases and insects, before being shipped to the United States. After arriving in Washington, DC in March of 1912, the trees were successfully planted along the Tidal Basin and in other areas of Potomac Park and the city.

Fewer than 100 of the original trees survive today among the nearly 4,000 cherry trees growing in West and East Potomac Parks, on the Washington Monument grounds, and in several other park locations.

Today, these trees stand not only as a powerful symbol of friendship between nations, but as an inspiring reminder of the difference one person can make by faithfully pursuing a dream.

The blooming of the cherry trees around the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. has come to symbolize the natural beauty of our nation’s capital city. Each year, spring is announced by the explosion of life and color that surrounds the Tidal Basin in a sea of pale pink and white blossoms. Annually, this event is known as the Cherry Blossom Festival, and it has a rich tradition, particularly with our Nation’s first ladies.

So when does it happen? Forecasting peak bloom is almost impossible more than 10 days in advance. The cherry trees’ blossom development is dependent on weather conditions, which are inherently variable. National Park Service horticulturists monitor bud development and report the status of the blossoms. But the event is getting earlier and earlier each year. Here’s Patrick Gonzalez, a National Park Service Climate Change Scientist, to explain why.

The National Park Service and their partner, the National Cherry Blossom Festival, offer a wide variety of events and activities during the bloom including the Blossom Kite Festival, Japanese Street Festival, Southwest Waterfront Fireworks and more. There’s even a Junior Ranger program. The event takes place around late March and early April of each year. You can even view the blossoms on a dedicated Park Service webcam.

The National Park Service operates a slew of sites in DC, including the National Mall, the Presidents Park, war memorials, presidential effigies and more. If you go, make sure to plan on taking public transportation. There are few places more difficult to park than Washington DC. Luckily, the public transportation is affordable and efficient. Many people plan short weekend trips to the city, but there’s enough to do to last a month.

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted by me, Jason Epperson, and narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to subscribe, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.” You can also join our new America’s National Parks Facebook group. We’ll link to all of our social media, as well as National Park Service resources, music credits, and more in the show notes at National Park Podcast dot com.

If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast. You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com.

Today’s show was sponsored by L.L.Bean, follow the hashtag #beanoutsider, and visit LLBean.com to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.


Music

Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

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