Posts Tagged ‘Washington D.C.’

It contains more than 30,000,000 books.  It has more than 100,000,000 items from various collections.  Are you bilingual?  Good, this place has materials written in 460 different languages.  It houses invaluable music collections, including some of the first recorded sounds in existance.  It has one of the original Gutenberg Bibles.

Yep, the Library of Congress has just about anything you could want to read, watch, or listen to, and thousands of items swell the inventory every day.  In fact, a couple of weeks ago, it was announced that the Library of Congress had struck a deal with Twitter, allowing it to keep a digital record of Tweets.  Um…yay?  It spans four buildings, three of which are dedicated to our second, third, and fourth Presidents.

But in 1851, the Library didn’t have four buildings.  It had just one.  There were no Tweets.  And apparently, that building didn’t have a sprinkler system…or maybe it did, and it hadn’t been tested.  Regardless, on December 24, 1851, the Library of Congress caught fire.  Before the flames could be extinguished, more than 35,000 books had been destroyed.  By today’s standards, that’s a mighty small percentage of the total collection.  But 160 years ago, the Library contained just 55,000 books.

What makes the loss more painful to take is that much of Thomas Jefferson’s personal collection was among the charred remains.  If you recall, after the Library was burned for the first time (when the British sacked the capital during the War of 1812), Jefferson sold his books to the government to seed the new library.

Today, you can see what’s left of Jefferson’s collection somewhere on the Library of Congress’ 800+ miles of shelves (a few are shown above).  And I bet if you look up at the ceiling, you’ll see a bunch of sprinkler heads.

I may be back this evening, but if not, have a safe, wonderful Christmas Eve.

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Today was a beautiful day.  Bright sunshine, a few clouds, low humidity, and temps around 80.  I’m not sure I could have ordered a better day.  Meanwhile, the East Coast is battening down the hatches as Hurricane Irene has come ashore and is working its misery.  As I type, New York City is in the crosshairs.  I hope my good friend Michael (who lives in Rhode Island and founded Today’s History Lesson) and a couple other good friends in the area will be alright.

At this time in 1814, it was the nation’s capitol that was the center of attention.  It wasn’t a hurricane that was approaching, but one that had just departed.  Actually, it was a two-headed hurricane.  The first was the literal storm that blew in, chasing the attacking British back to their ships.  The second head belonged to the British themselves, who landed just in front of the storm and stuck around long enough to burn down the White House, the Capitol building (including the Library of Congress), both houses of Congress, and numerous other buildings.

The U.S. government had scattered before the British onslaught.  The night the city was sacked, President Madison and his wife planned to meet, along with others, at Wiley’s Tavern near the Great Falls.  But the President ended up at the home of Reverend John Maffitt.  Dolley, just a mile away, bedded down at the home of her friend Matilda Love.

As we know, the British stay in the capitol was short-lived, and Madison soon received word of their departure.  It was time to reclaim the capital.  Shortly after 5:00pm on August 27, 1814, the President re-entered D.C. with James Monroe and Richard Rush.  Much had changed in 3 days, and the rebuilding would take years.  There was a tremendous explosion later in the evening as Fort Washington, for some reason, was blown up by its commander.

The good news was that the President was back in Washington.  But though he would be elected to a second term, he and Dolley would not again sleep in the White House.

Recommended Reading: James Madison

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