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White House Chip Burned by the British

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Architectural Antiques127 of 157E. Northampton St., Wilkes-Barré, PARescues from an ILGWU Hall
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    Posted 6 years ago

    (12 items)

    Every summer since 1967, the Smithsonian "...honors contemporary living cultural traditions and celebrates those who practice and sustain them" with The American Folk Life Festival on the Mall in Washington, D.C. "...[S]ing and dance along, try craft and game workshops, learn traditional recipes, ask questions, and take part in this unique cultural exchange." Always a great, most interesting time to visit Washington, D.C. around the July 4th holidays.

    I attended the 1992 Folk Life Festival as they celebrated the culture of New Mexico, but another of the more interesting exhibits was "Workers at the White House," those that labor behind the scenes of the home and office of the president every day. Butlers, housekeepers, maids, stone masons, engineers - many who have been there for decades - told their stories in a series of lectures on the Mall to very fascinated crowds, including me.

    In between one lecture, I wandered the rest of the exhibit that included an aquia sandstone 'capital', the decorative cap of a column that showed burn marks from when the invading British military burned numerous buildings in Washington, D.C. on the night of August 24, 1814 in retaliation for US military forces burning the public buildings in Port Dover, Ontario, Canada in an unsanctioned attempt to disrupt trade.

    The sandstone capital definitely showed the burn marks of the British raid (similar to the actual burn marks on one of the pediments in the second image) and it was temporarily unguarded by a National Park ranger. Fascinated by early Washington, D.C., particularly with the White House itself, I just had to just touch the burn marks just to say I did. As I did, a small piece (it looks a bit like the map of the United States, doesn't it?) just fell off onto the ground. It wasn't good, I thought, to leave the piece unattended, so I picked it up and safeguarded it until I saw a ranger. Then went back to the lectures.

    It wasn't until I got home that I felt the piece still in my pocket and so I kept it in a small box to preserve it ever since.

    Such a curious piece of history. This small piece of sandstone, from a large block cut from the Aquia Creek in Maryland, was part of a permanent structure whose construction was overseen by President George Washington in 1792. This is a tangible link to the beginning of the American presidency and that of the United States of America, both in war and in peace.

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    1. Newfld Newfld, 6 years ago
      Very interesting piece, that must have been a wonderful DC visit, I love all that classic history and yes, around July 4th is a great time to see the exhibits. Thank you for sharing, keep that sandstone in a prominent place
    2. Patriotica Patriotica, 6 years ago

      You might be referring to blackout curtains for the windows as most other buildings did throughout the war, mostly in Europe.

      There was a brief discussion about painting parts of the WH black, including the roof, but FDR said no, suggesting it would send a wrong message. In fact, there were no special precautions made for the WH other than some bulletproof glass, a bomb shelter and dimmer outdoor lighting, according to the White House Historical Association.

      And by the way, the White House doesn't have a dome, the US Capital does and it wasn't painted black either.

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