( Originally Published 1922 )
The Mall is being actively developed into the place of beauty of which its planners dreamed a century and a quarter ago. Demolition of the unfit which had intruded itself there, and the erection of the new and beautiful, have been proceeding side by side.
The Mall is a great park-way extending in a broad swathe, and in a long stretch from the Capitol to the Potomac, although originally the idea was to end it opposite the southern face of the White House. Its development has largely been hampered by the curious impossibility of driving any vehicle throughout its length; and its looks have been sorely injured by the setting down at random of numerous unsatisfactory looking buildings and by breaking its great length into ineffectiveness by greenhouses, chimneys, public offices and high iron fences. In all there has been a variety of the extremely good and the extremely bad built in it—the bad being somewhat excused on the ground of temporary needs.
The heart of the Mall is the Washington Monument, an obelisk of the tremendous and alliterative height of five hundred and fifty-five feet and five inches. But it is not the immensity of it that counts. It is the impressiveness of it, the nobility of it, its standing alone and rising from the grassy ground with absolute austerity and bareness. Not even trees lessen the grandeur of it. It is of such an imposing height that either when approaching the city, or from any point within it, the great white shaft dominates the landscape.
The play of light upon it on a sunshiny day makes it a shaft of glory. A passing cloud makes an unearthly gleam pass over it. It catches the morning sun like a white mountain peak. The evening light lingers on it when dusk falls in the city.
In the heart of the great white marble obelisk are a stair and an elevator. At a point above five hundred feet in height each of the four walls is pierced with two great loopholes which offer views stretching over the city, over the rivers and the pine-clad hills, and on clear days to the distant mountains of the Blue Ridge.
A marble monument was decided upon by the Continental Congress sixteen years before Washington's death. Washington himself is believed to have approved of this site. But nothing was done until a half century after the enthusiasm of the Continental Congress, and although the matter was actively taken up the cornerstone was not laid until the middle of the nineteenth century. For only a few years the construction went on; then the work was suspended for over twenty years, when again Congress acted, and appropriated sufficient money for its completion; and not until 1885 was the monument finished. The man who delivered the principal address at the laying of the cornerstone, was Robert C. Winthrop, who, by an odd chance, was Speaker of the House during the one term that Abraham Lincoln was a member, and Winthrop, now an old man, wrote the address for the monument's completion. Stones of sentiment are built into the interior of the monument, gifts from many States and from distant and thrilling places: from ancient Carthage, from the Peaks of Otter, from the Parthenon, a stone from the spot where William Tell escaped from Gessler. This was sent by Switzerland and at least indicates Swiss belief in the verity of the story.
It makes lovers of the simplicity and austerity of this monument aghast to learn that it is planned, by those in authority, to build a temple-like structure at the base of this great shaft. It is so superbly successful as it is, rising sheer from the green turf, without even the slightest extraneous details, that the fact that the original plan showed such a temple should not be an argument for spoiling a perfect thing.
The day of the laying of the cornerstone of the monument marks one of the Presidential tragedies. President Taylor, "Old Rough and Ready," presided. It was July 4, and the President became in-tensely overheated. He sat in the sun, while a very long and tedious address was delivered, and continued to sit exposed to the mid-summer heat, while another long address was delivered by George Washington Parke Custis of Arlington, who was always boresome except when giving his personal memories of George Washington. As Taylor sat there in the hot sun, he unfortunately drank freely of ice-water. Returning to the White House, he ate freely of cherries, and with them drank a large quantity of ice-cold milk. Soldier's constitution though he possessed, he could not withstand the accumulated strain. He was at once taken ill, and in a very few days was dead.
The Mall will in one highly important respect even surpass the early ideas, for a feature only recently thought of has been placed there; the wonderful Lincoln Memorial, at the Potomac River end of the space. With the Capitol at one end, the Washington Monument in the middle, the Lincoln Memorial at the farther end, and the White House at one side, America will have the right to point with pride to a pre-eminent achievement.
It is also planned to put up an additional memorial to George Washington, a structure with a long pillared front and a tremendous costliness, about where Center Market stands, but in the presence of the superb Washington shaft any such structure would seem supererogatory and, though the corner-stone is laid, its erection is seriously questioned.
Beginning at the Capitol end of the Mall, after crossing the roadways at the foot of the broad stair-ways height, the Grant Memorial is first reached. The principal figure naturally is Grant himself, seated quietly on horseback with his military hat pulled down nearly to the high collar of his military overcoat: he sits in concentrated thought in a storm of war and weather; but the rest of the memorial promises to be an excited medley of charging horses, fighting men, and general confusion. Without doubt, the entire memorial will prove to be highly satisfactory to veteran soldiers in general, when it is completed and when the grounds round about it are properly in order, for the committee who picked the design from those which were submitted in competition consisted of such highly distinguished men as Augustus Saint Gaudens, Daniel Chester French, Daniel H. Burnham and Charles F. McKim.
In the long mile and a half length of the Mall are a large number of war-time office buildings. They housed an immense number of clerks, mostly young women, who crowded swarmingly into every restaurant in the neighborhood to purchase, so the astonished dealers will still tell you, enormous totals of pastry, milk and fruit. But these buildings for temporary working needs are being taken down, as there is no longer need for them. There are also some enormous chimneys there, which may be confidently counted on to disappear.
It has been the Congressional habit, when necessity called for a new public structure, to locate a site on the Mall, until the tract, half meadow, half park, has been muddled into disarray with many inharmonious buildings, some very good in them-selves. The building of the Agricultural Department on the south side of the Mall is one of the great new buildings, plain and quiet and classic, and is a great improvement on the old building, which was put up in the fussy period that someway remains in mind as Centennial taste. At the same time, there have been fascinating displays of flowers in the simple workman-like greenhouses of the old Department buildings. And vast numbers of interested visitors have attended ; as, responding to such a summons as that of the modestly announced Amaryllis show, when thousands poured through the little unostentatious glass house, all in ecstacies over the uncountable rows of great pink lilies.
About opposite Center Market, which you will notice was built to face on the Mall with more prominence than toward Pennsylvania Avenue, is the older of the two buildings of the National Museum, a large structure of bright red brick, trimmed with brick of blue and yellow, and with brick streaks of black! It is not fair to call it of the Victorian period, when it is really of the period of our own Hayes and Garfield.
The new building of the National Museum, also on the Mall, is of smooth white stone with low rounding dome, and, without any offense in design, it is some-what of a nonentity of a building.
But the National Museum has gathered wonderful treasure within the walls of its two buildings. First of all and most prominent are the varied memorials of the recent Great War. Of particular fascination is the long-barreled gun which, fired at a submarine, was the first hostile weapon fired by this nation in the war with Germany.
There are uniforms and equipment of vast variety, and there are airplanes, cannon of all sorts, and examples of camouflage: in fact a great military collection, scattered through large rooms, basements and hallways, and in the grounds round about the buildings.
The National Museum, as its name implies, is meant as a place where objects of interest and value to the whole nation are to be gathered and preserved and shown. There are the historical, the social, the industrial, the scientific exhibits ; and here on the Mall these associated buildings are to stand in a long series.
There is vast wealth of collections gathered here, such as only a government, with its wealth and power, could acquire. It has also attracted gifts such as only a government could command.
There is a vast exhibit of the sources of medicines, with queer and interesting examples of roots, herbs and other strange materials from which they are extracted. There are elaborately made models of coal mines. There are examples of the pottery of the world, including also, bronzes, lacquers and glass, arranged geographically. The enterprise of women interested in the encouragement of textile art, has resulted in the gathering not only of laces of every period, variety, and European country, but brocades, velvets, embroideries, and other tissues. There are exhibits illustrating spinning, weaving, yarn and cloth manufacture from cotton, wool and silk, and there is the first American cotton-spinning machine. There are rugs, there is practically an example of every household furnishing and ornamentation and of the varieties of personal adornment.
Throughout, the touch of the historical, of the memory and memorials of the past, adds materially: and somehow, one feels a sudden and intense interest in examining a plain little oval table, a table quite without distinction of design, with spiral turned legs : a table frankly insignificant. In regard to this table, the tale is told that a man living on the field where the armies came together at the Battle of Bull Run, gathered his simple furniture into a wagon, and moved far off to where, so he supposed, he would not be troubled by war.
He settled at Appommatox, and on this little table, thus carried from Bull Run, Grant and Lee signed the agreement of surrender.
There is a vast amount, in hall after hall, of furniture, house-furnishing and costumes; the most extensive and most valuable in all the country: and the unique value of the great collection lies in the fact that it is not indefinite in ownership in the great historical periods, but is almost all linked to individuals or families of prominence.
There are two superlative and rival collections, shown side by side, those of the Colonial Dames and the Daughters of the Revolution, covering the field of exquisite Colonial collections of silver and china, and the delicate small things of those early days. They are from all parts of the Colonial area and are definitely associated with such names of wide-spread social fame as the Allstons of South Carolina, the Cabells of Virginia, the Langdons of New Hampshire and the like.
Turning from these cabinets of joyous belongings you are suddenly awed by coming, in a nearby case, to the death mask of Lincoln and the cast of his strong and shapely hands.
Most marked, most noteworthy, are the collections connected with the Washington family and with George Washington in particular. There is a little camp chest that takes you straight back to the Continental Army and its long campaigns. It is leather bound. It is studded with brass nails. It is lined with rough green flannel. It was carried by George Washington during the war, and shows evidence of use that was long continued. Its little compartments hold skillets and grill and platters and plates, pepper bottles and salt box, all of the most practical and portable form—but at the same time beautiful—such as the round-cornered pewter platter, the deep saucepan with heavy round wooden handle, placed on the side as with a French coffee pot, or the little grill for cooking the slice of toast or two bits of bacon over the coals.
There are ten superb Sheraton chairs which be-longed to George Washington, there are mirrors that were his, there are bandy-legged tables, there is a splendid shield-backed Heppelwhite, there is a comfortable, charming fireside chair, a little smaller than this type was usually made.
An enormous value of this entire collection lies in its displaying the style of living and furnishing of that period, in its finest and final form. Here the sources are without question, and the period, the age, are known, and that the connection is so largely with the greatest of Americans gives the collection unique character. It is the last word in collecting!
One of the most engaging pieces of old furniture to be seen anywhere in the world is a child's-size dressing-table, inlaid, delicate, taper-legged, a gift from Lafayette to Martha, the grandchild and name-sake of Mrs. Washington, who later lived at Tudor Place in Georgetown, when married.
All the George Washington glass, the gold-margined china, the pistol-handled knives, the Lowestoft with blue and gold, the Sheffield plate in which he took such pride, the urn-shaped lamps, the beautiful candlesticks, the pair of crystal candelabra, all arouse pictures of the rich stateliness of the life of those days.
The official title given the general historical collection of costumes is "The Period Costume Collection." It excels, in the superlative way in which it has been carried out, any collection of similar character whether in this country or abroad.
The most surpassing individual feature is the collection of costumes actually worn by the women who were mistresses of the White House, through all the administrations. The gowns are most carefully placed upon the plaster figures in a long series of glass cases. The figures make no attempt to be precisely portraits but they approach it. Even the out-lines of the hair are in each case of the proper style of the period: and some waist-lines are of an incredible slenderness.
Clustered around the cases of this unique collection are other cases on the walls and upon tables, all showing American gowns of periods of the past. Here also are the costumes of some of the early Presidents, such as a military costume of Washing-ton, a sleeping bag of the inventively inclined Jefferson, a rich costume of John Adams, of silk as yellow as old gold and embroidered in blue corn-flowers, past republican belief! But the main interest in costumes lies with those of the women of the Presidency.
First of all you see the quietly capped figure of the wife of the President whose administration closed before the White House opened. Her gown is of ashes-of-roses silk, with little trellis design, painted with a spray of flowers in the center of each; a rich and quiet gown, as to which one wonders if this is of the color which, when Washington ordered it for her from London, he called a "tabby" gown.
Mrs. Adams is here, a quiet little figure in a queer little gown of purplish blue, with a full skirt, embroidered soberly in the same color. This quiet garb was not typical of Abigail Adams, though evidently it is the best available for the collection, for one remembers details of her fine clothes, and her own description which she wrote home from London of the glories of her presentation gown.
Dolly Madison is in full-trained gown of pale lemon-colored satin, over a skirt of white satin, embroidered in garlands of delicate flowers. She holds a double kerchief of tambour in her hand, and a copy of Milton; remindful this, of a characteristic of the clever Dolly, with whom it was a social affectation to close or open some literary classic as she turned to greet a guest; as when, so it is narrated, she held a book in her hand when she met young Preston, the son of an old friend.
Great numbers of people go through this gallery, and it is noticeable that, after all these years and after the great variety of women who have held sway in the White House, not a figure in all these cases attracts the degree of interest that is accorded to Dolly Madison; which shows what personality will do. One wonders if half of those who murmur her name in passing, know the given name of her husband!
Mrs. Monroe is in white, brocaded with large single flowers, almost dahlia-like in color, with a border padded and wadded with cotton, and a Watteau pleat from the shoulders. Mrs. John Quincy Adams is astonishingly slim in white satin, covered with tulle and bordered by silver lace frills. Van Buren's daughter-in-law is in full blue velvet with long full train, with point lace on her shoulders and an eighteen inch waist !—a figure resplendent with youth. She was a South Carolina beauty and her strangely head-dressed portrait still hangs in the White House.
Mrs. Fillmore is literally in lavender and old lace. Mrs. Pierce is gentle and lovely in black net mourning for her son, who was killed in a railroad accident. There is only one wife given to President Tyler, his second and youthful one, and she wears a gown with a three-tiered flounce of airy silk muslin, edged with gold threads and soft queer-colored flowers. Harriet Lane is in the wedding glory of long widespread train of watered silk and fine lace.
Mrs. Lincoln is irreproachable in purple velvet, corded in white. Mrs. Grant wears white brocade with silver threads. Mrs. Hayes is in white satin, pearl befringed—and with a bustle ! Mrs. Gar-field wears pale lavender satin and lace—quiet, but with the longest train of all. Mrs. McElroy wears a gray brocade with steel beads. Mrs. Cleveland is in stiffened silk skirt, with a queer rose-pink velvet gorget. Mrs. McKinley is in a rich high-necked gown of white, heavy with pearls. Mrs. Roosevelt, in pale blue brocade with very fine lines, very simple, with transparent shoulders and sleeves, is reading a pamphlet. Mrs. Taft is so slight and so quietly dressed as to be almost unnoticeable. In the last case are two women. Each is a Mrs. Wilson. The first is in white brocaded satin. The present Mrs. Wilson appears effectively in black velvet and jet, with low neck, and only black net over the shoulders. Between the two stands a vacant chair !