07 Nov 2022

History:

Book Review: Secret Washington, DC

I’m a little behind on this, given that this book was published in 2021, but I only recently got around to getting a copy of it. Which is, admittedly, on the slow side given how right down my alley the book is.

The name is Secret Washington, D.C.: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure.

And while I tend to look for items matching having those attributes here on Capitol Hill, while author Joann Hill ranges all around Washington – and even into the surrounding areas – there is a fair bit of overlap.

So, for instance, she begins with the saga of Representative William Taulbee his murder in the Capitol and the arrest, trial, and acquittal of the man who shot him. Hill focuses on the stains left by the mortally wounded Representative, still visible today on the steps leading to the House chamber.

There is also a piece on the original Capitol columns, today at the Arboretum, and moved there during the expansion to the East Front of the Capitol in the 1950s.

Detail of the cover

Hill also writes about the public vault at Congressional Cemetery, a place I have been past many a time. While I have written of it in terms of the brief time John Quincy Adams spent there between his funeral in the Capitol and his trip to Massachusetts for burial, here the focus is on Dolley Madison and her lengthy sojourn – and the sad reasons why that happened.

Sometimes, she looks at events that I covered in one or the other of my books, especially including my scandal book – such as the infamous beating on the Senate floor of Senator Charles Sumner by Preston Brooks.

Another story from Congressional Cemetery that I tell to all my groups is the lost and found head of former Attorney General William Wirt. Again, something I covered in my book but have never mentioned here.

And what book about the weird, wonderful, and obscure in Washington would be complete without a look at the infamous tubs in the Capitol?

Unsurprisingly, Hill has a number of pieces related to the Capitol, including Adelaide Johnson’s Portrait Monument Dedicated to Women’s Suffrage and the stories that have grown up around it.

And, finally, she looks at the temporary Capitol building, and how it was used in various ways – including a prison – before finally being torn down to make way for the Supreme Court. Again, a topic I have returned to multiple times (the first, rather error-filled, one was here – I think I got it right in later iterations)

Anyway, if you want to have all of these stories – and many more – available in a handy format, I highly recommend you pick up a copy wherever fine books are sold. It’s the perfect thing to have lying around when friends come to visit and you can’t face the Air and Space Museum one more time.


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