Traveling secretary Hattie Davish is taking her singular talents to Washington, D.C., to help Sir Arthur Windom-Greene research his next book. But in the winding halls of the nation’s capital, searching for the truth can sometimes lead to murder . . .
Hattie is in her element, digging through dusty basements, attics, and abandoned buildings, not to be denied until she fishes out that elusive fact. But her delightful explorations are dampened when she witnesses a carriage crash into a carp pond beneath the shadow of the Washington Monument. Alarmingly, one of the passengers flees the scene, leaving the other to drown. The incident only heightens tensions brought on by the much publicized arrival of “Coxey’s Army,” thousands of unemployed men converging on the capital for the first ever organized “march” on Washington. When one of the marchers is found murdered in the ensuing chaos, Hattie begins to suspect a sinister conspiracy is at hand. As she expands her investigations into the motives of murder and closes in on the trail of a killer, she is surprised and distraught to learn that her research will lead her straight to the highest levels of government . . .
Seeing something old as new
When I decided to set Hattie Davish’s latest adventure in Washington D.C., I thought that since I’d visited the city many, many times, I wouldn’t have to do a great deal of research. Of course, I knew that the city had evolved since its founding in 1790, especially after its destruction in 1814 and its growth during the Civil War Era. But how different could the city of 1894 be from the one I knew and loved? The White House was there, though the grounds were accessible public parks in 1894, the Capitol was there, the Washington Monument had been completed ten years earlier, and the National Mall was there, with most of the streets laid out as we see them today. Yet to my surprise and delight, it was very different indeed. Are you familiar with the Federal Triangle – home to the IRS, the EPA, the Commerce Department and the Justice Department? I was too. But, did you know that, in 1894, a large area that is currently occupied by the Federal Triangle was called Murder Bay (or Hooker’s Division)?
Only a few blocks from the White House, this poverty-stricken region lacked paved roads, a sewer system, or running water and was almost exclusively home to gambling dens, saloons and brothels run by the city’s criminal underclass. I had no idea. You can imagine it didn’t take me long to figure out a way to incorporate this long-gone den of thieves and prostitutes into my story. I soon discovered that many of the iconic buildings, memorials and structures that we take for granted in the 21st century weren’t there in 1894 either.
The National Mall is a good example. Although the Mall itself existed, filled with trees and winding paths, it bore little resemblance to the open park we know today. Of the iconic buildings that line its streets, only the Smithsonian “Castle” and the Arts & Industries Building (known then as the National Museum) existed in 1894. Instead Hattie would have walked past the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (near the site of the current Holocaust Museum), the National Medical Museum (near the site of the current Hirshhorn Museum), and the Central Station of the U.S. Fish Commission (near the present site of the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum). The train depot and associated train tracks dominated 6th street and the only building of consequence on the north side of the National Mall was Center Market, the city’s largest food market, (a massive 57,500 square feet) serving tens of thousands of people a day. It is now the site of the National Archives Building, completed in the late 1930’s.
Even the area around the Washington Monument at the end of the Mall has changed. For many years, the grounds of the Washington Monument were dominated by greenhouses and large carp ponds. The Tidal Basin area as we know it has also undergone a massive transformation. Potomac Park, an often muddy, marshy strip in and around the Tidal Reservoir, created by the dredging of the river, was all that existed. The Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool weren’t constructed until the early 1920’s, let alone the many other memorials we see today. As a lover of historical research, I delighted in uncovering the forgotten details of a city I thought I knew so well. Now I see D.C. in a whole new (old) light!
About the Author
Anna Loan-Wilsey, biologist, librarian, and author, writes the historical Hattie Davish Mystery series featuring a Victorian traveling secretary who solves crimes in every historic town she visits. The first in the series, A Lack of Temperance, set in 1890’s Eureka Springs, Arkansas, (an Amazon #1 bestseller) was followed by Anything But Civil (set in Galena, IL), A Sense of Entitlement (an iBook #1 bestseller set in Newport, RI), and A Deceptive Homecoming (set in St. Joseph, MO, Hattie’s hometown). A March to Remember finds Hattie caught up in the political intrigues surrounding Coxey’s Army and the first “march” on Washington, D.C. Anna lives in a Victorian farmhouse near Ames, Iowa with her family where she is happily working on new mystery adventures.
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