Today in History

Today in History: May 23

Pennsylvania Avenue

When Johnny comes Marching Home Again, Hurrah, hurrah!
We'll give him a hearty welcome then, Hurrah, hurrah!
The men will cheer, the boys will shout, The ladies, they will all turn out,
And we'll all feel gay, When Johnny comes marching home

"When Johnny Comes Marching Home; Soldier's Return March,"
words and music by Louis Lambert (pseudonym of Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore), 1863.
Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920

On May 23, 1865, the Army of the Potomac celebrated the end of the Civil War by parading down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. Only weeks before, mourners watched Abraham Lincoln's funeral cortege travel the same thoroughfare. With many buildings still dressed in black crepe, this joyous procession could not help but remind spectators of that unhappy occasion.

Infantry Unit
Infantry Unit, Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C.,
Mathew B. Brady, photographer, 1865.
Selected Civil War Photographs

Presidential reviewing stand
Presidential Reviewing Stand, Grand Review of the Army, Washington, D.C.,
Mathew B. Brady, photographer, 1865.
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

Artillery unit passing
Artillery Unit, Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C.,
Mathew B. Brady, photographer, 1865.
Selected Civil War Photographs

Laid out by Pierre L'Enfant, Pennsylvania Avenue was one of the earliest streets constructed in the federal city. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson considered the avenue an important feature of the new capital. After inspecting L'Enfant's plan, President Washington referred to the thoroughfare as a "Grand Avenue." Jefferson concurred, and while the "grand avenue" was little more than a wide dirt road, he planted it with rows of fast growing Lombardy poplars.

Although Pennsylvania Avenue extends seven miles, the expanse between the White House and the Capitol constitutes the ceremonial heart of the nation. Washington called this stretch "most magnificent & most convenient" and it has served the country well. Ever since an impromptu procession formed around Jefferson's second inauguration, each United States president has paraded down the Avenue after taking the oath of office. From William Henry Harrison to John F. Kennedy the funeral corteges of the seven presidents who died in office followed this route.

Mckinley's funeral cortege
President McKinley's Funeral Cortege at Washington, D.C.,
Thomas A. Edison, Inc., September 1901.
The Last Days of a President: Films of McKinley and the Pan-American Exposition, 1901

Not just the scene of official functions, Pennsylvania Avenue is the traditional parade and protest route of ordinary citizens. During the depression of the 1890s, for example, Jacob Coxey marched 500 supporters down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol to demand Federal aid for the unemployed. Similarly, on the eve of Woodrow Wilson's 1913 inauguration, Alice Paul masterminded a parade highlighting the woman suffrage movement. In July 1932, a contingent of the Bonus Expeditionary Force carried flags down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House where they planned to form picket lines. Pennsylvania Avenue also has served as a background for more lighthearted celebrations, including a series of day and nighttime Shriner's parades in the 1920s and 1930s.

Learn more about the nation's most historic thoroughfare:

The New York Public Library

New York Public Library
New York Public Library, New York, New York, between 1910 and 1920.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920

President William Howard Taft presided over the dedication of the New York Public Library (external link) on May 23, 1911.

Built on the site of the Croton Reservoir, the immense marble Beaux-Arts structure required a decade of preparation and construction. With room for exhibitions as well as a picture gallery, the New York Public Library was designed to meet a variety of educational needs. Strategically situated above seven floors of stacks, its main reading room provided researchers with requested materials as quickly as possible.

Upon his death in 1886, former New York governor Samuel J. Tilden (1814-86) left money in trust for the creation of a free public library and reading room in New York City. Nearly ten years later, the Tilden Trust (external link) combined with two existing research institutions—the Lenox Library and the Astor Library—to form the New York Public Library. The Library also assumed management of both the New York Free Circulating Library and a new branch library system funded by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

New York City Public Library
New York City Public Library,
New York, New York, copyright 1925.
Small-Town America: Stereoscopic Views from the Robert Dennis Collection, 1850-1920

"It can hardly be thought extravagant to say that no site better adapted for a structure of suitable proportions for a metropolitan library could be carved out of any part of the city than this of Bryant Park. It is on the highest ground between the Central Park and the Battery; it is, and will continue to be, central as long as any place in New York is ever likely to be central…"

John Bigelow,  "The Tilden Trust Library: What Shall It Be?" (external link) Scribner’s Magazine 12 (July-December 1892): 293.

Learn more about New York City and the New York Public Library: