'Washington Schlepped Here'

Humorist Buckley Leads a Walking Tour of D.C.'s Past

Listen: <b>Web Extra:</b> Hear Christopher Buckley describe the truth and legend behind "the curse of Lafayette Square."

Christopher Buckley

Christopher Buckley and the Washington Monument. Neal Carruth, NPR News hide caption

itoggle caption Neal Carruth, NPR News
The tomb of Pierre Charles L'Enfant

The tomb of Pierre Charles L'Enfant, the designer of Washington, D.C., in Arlington National Cemetery. Neal Carruth, NPR News hide caption

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Cover of 'Washington Schlepped Here: Walking in the Nation's Capital'

Cover of Washington Schlepped Here: Walking in the Nation's Capital (Crown Journeys) hide caption

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Available Online
Custis-Lee Mansion

The Custis-Lee Mansion (also known as Arlington House) within the Arlington National Cemetary. Neal Carruth, NPR News hide caption

itoggle caption Neal Carruth, NPR News

In 1981, Christopher Buckley moved from New York to Washington, D.C., to take a job as a speechwriter for then-Vice President George H.W. Bush. To his surprise, and to the surprise of his New York City friends, Buckley says he liked the city.

Now Buckley is the author of Washington Schlepped Here: Walking in the Nation's Capital, and he recently took NPR's Liane Hansen on a walking tour of his adopted home.

The tour began in Lafayette Park, just north of the White House. It was here that President Thomas Jefferson held the first Fourth of July celebration.

The back lawn of the White House stretches to the Ellipse and the National Mall. Presidents standing on the Truman Balcony can look out to the Washington Monument, which stands mid-way between the Capitol building and another sacred place in America's and Washington's history — the Lincoln Memorial.

Buckley says he finds it amazing how long it takes Washington to pay tribute to its truly great leaders and statesmen. President Warren Harding attended the dedication of the memorial in 1922 — nearly 60 years after Lincoln's death. Also in attendance were former president and then-Chief Justice William Howard Taft and President Lincoln's only surviving son, Robert Todd Lincoln. The keynote address was given by the head of the Tuskegee Institute, Dr. Robert Moton.

Hansen notes that just as in Lincoln's day, the evidence of security is everywhere in Washington. "Helicopters patrolling the skies around the memorials, the Capitol and the White House are part of everyday life in Washington during the age of the war on terrorism — just as armed troops patrolled the streets of the capitol during Lincoln's administration," she says.

Next, Buckley and Hansen crossed the Potomac and made their way through Arlington National Cemetery, past the graves of thousands of American servicemen and women — farmers, teachers, doctors and two presidents.

They stopped in front of the Custis-Lee Mansion, which offers a spectacular view of Washington, D.C. From there, a visitor can see the Capitol, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.

On the front lawn of the mansion is an elegant gravestone marking the final resting place of Pierre Charles L'Enfant, the designer of Washington, D.C. L'Enfant was the son of an enamellist who worked under King Louis XVI. He joined the Continental Army and served as "Artist Extraordinary" with General George Washington at Valley Forge. In 1909, the city fathers of Washington decided to move L'Enfant's body out of its resting place in Bladensburg and give him a proper burial — one with a great view.

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