Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Walt Whitman's Washington Part 2

A continuation of Walt Whitman's hangouts. At Left: Walt Whitman and companion Peter Doyle in 1865.

14th Street: From this thorough-fare for Union troops, Walt witnessed wounded soldiers returning from the fronts in thousands. Noting their disheveled states and pained gazes, so unlike the grand military reviews held near the White House, Whitman stated, “This is way the men come in now, seldom in small numbers, but always in these long, sad processions.”

Analostan Island (Teddy Roosevelt Island): Though Whitman was by and large a Unionist, he was not an abolitionist. In effort to convert him, abolitionist coworkers in the Army Paymaster’s Office took him on a trip to Analostan Island, near Georgetown, to watch the First Regiment US Colored Troops receive pay. Whitman conceded that the colored troops fought bravely and honorably, but still believed them to be genetically and intellectually inferior.

Pennsylvania Ave: After hospital duty, Whitman strolled down the Avenue in the night air, clearing his thoughts and taking in the scenery.
· On this street he would see President Abraham Lincoln walking to and from the White House. Though he never met Lincoln personally he commented, “Who can see that man without losing all wish to be sharp upon him personally? Who can say he has not a good soul?”
· Whitman found love and companionship toward the end of the war from Pennsylvania Avenue horsecar operator and Confederate deserter Peter Doyle. Though 25 years Doyle’s senior, the two became inseparable over the next five years. At night Whitman would ride the lonely streetcar from Georgetown to Capitol, talking and confiding in Doyle.
· At the Center Market on Penn and 7th, Doyle and Whitman purchased watermelon. Sitting on a curb eating it, with passersby laughing at the odd couple. Walt would say, “They can have the laugh—we have the melon.”

Union Hotel: Early in the Civil War, the Union Hotel in Georgetown (at 30th and M Streets) became a temporary hospital for those with contagious diseases. By 1864 the Hotel had reverted back to its status as a popular saloon. Tired after a late shift on the streetcar, Doyle would fall asleep at a table in the bar, awoken at the end of the night by Whitman.

Walt Whitman resided in Washington, DC until 1873, when working late one night in the Treasury Building he suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed. At age 54, he had become an old man. Relocating to be close to family in Camden, New Jersey, Whitman hoped that he would be well enough to return to Washington, DC and Peter Doyle. However, he never recovered fully enough to make DC his home once more and lived the rest of his days in Camden.

Sources: Justin Kaplan, Walt Whitman: A Life.

Roy Morris, Jr.,
The Better Angel.

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