16 May 2022

History:

Lost Capitol Hill: Familiar Sights of the National Capital

George W. Hayes

Many years ago, I found – no idea where – a page of a magazine entitled “Familiar Sights of the National Capital,” and consisting of a series of vignettes of life in Washington D.C. While downloading it, I made a note that it was supposed have come from an 1892 issue “American Magazine,” but that was really all I knew about it. I was particularly intrigued by one of the pictures showing bicyclists silhouetted against the Capitol, and figured that I might need this as an image if I ever write about bicycling on Capitol Hill.

As it turned out, I never did find a good use for it. However, while trawling around my extensive archives hoping to find something interesting to write about, I came across the picture again. It did not take long to determine its true origin: the October, 1892, edition of Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly. Which in 1906, and after numerous other name changes, did become “The American Magazine.

The vignettes were part of an article entitled “A Washington Correspondent’s Notebook.” The author is George W. Hayes, whose picture, drawn by Punch cartoonist Harry Furniss, is above. Other than that, little can be said about Hayes. His only claim to fame appears to be this article. All attempts to search for him either ended up with a George W. Hayes who is either unlikely to be, or definitely not, him; or links to this very article.

In his piece, Hayes argues that there “are two classes of men who thoroughly enjoy life in Washington – wealthy idlers and newspaper workers.” He goes through all the other people living in the city, from the President “who, to my notion, does more actual hard work with less relaxation than any man in the world with a similar salary ($50,000 per year)” down to the “great army of men and women are spent in a dull routine of government clerical work,” and concludes that none have it better than he and his fellow correspondents.

Hayes then takes the reader through a quick guided tour of the city, from the sight of the Washington Monument, which he states will make “every throb of our heart sound in your brain” to the exact spot where President Garfield was shot. But mainly, Hayes tells stories of his interactions with famous (well, for the time) Washingtonians and visitors – such as Harry Furniss.

Pennsylvania Avenue at Night, probably by Benjamin West Clinedinst, from Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly, October 1892

There are a whole series of pictures throughout the article, most not directly related to the stories. While most are unsigned, a few have the name B. West Clinedinst under them. Benjamin West Clinedinst was a Virginia-born artist who studied at VMI before switching to art, studying in Baltimore for a year before moving to Paris for five years. These drawings, among others for Frank Leslie’s Weekly – a sister publication to Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly – were what cemented his fame.

Anyway, if you’re at all interested in this article and the minor figures of history it mentions, the whole thing is available at HathiTrust right here.

More on one particularly intriguing part of this picture next week.


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