Remaking The Image Of A Washingtonian Who Made Over The City (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Remaking The Image Of A Washingtonian Who Made Over The City

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:09
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and this week we are all about makeovers. So far we've met a criminal profiler who is making over her life after retiring from the FBI. We've visited D.C.'s largest concert venue, which is receiving a tremendous makeover of its own. And in just a bit we'll meet the local man responsible for the nutrition label on the food we eat and hear about plans to revamp that label.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:33
But first, we're going to talk about a fellow, a native Washingtonian actually, who, you could kind of say, is associated with two makeovers.

MS. CAROLYN CROUCH

00:00:41
In his case, there's the makeover of a physical place. And then later, there's somewhat of a rehabilitation makeover of his reputation.

SHEIR

00:00:52
That's Carolyn Crouch, owner of the walking-tour company, Washington Walks. I met up with her on 14th and E in Northwest D.C., right next to a statue of the rather infamous guy she's talking about, Alexander Robey Shepherd, who directed the Board of Public Works during Washington's Territorial Government period from 1871 to 1874.

CROUCH

00:01:13
He was instrumental in allowing the city to flourish after the Civil War as a city that finally had sewage under the ground in nice pipes, water flowing to people's homes, paved, graded streets. He created a massive tree canopy in Washington, D.C.

SHEIR

00:01:38
How many trees did he plant?

CROUCH

00:01:39
64,000 trees under his time as the head of the Public Works of Washington, D.C.

SHEIR

00:01:48
Didn't they also call him the czar of the Public Works?

CROUCH

00:01:50
They might have, but his name that stuck was Boss. Boss Shepherd, as in Boss Tweed, frankly, of Tammany Hall in New York City, because there were allegations of mismanagement of funds, misappropriation of funds, cronyism. Nothing was ever legally proven that he did anything illegal, but I think that's what made the name Boss Shepherd attach to his reputation during his time. Not only as the head of the Department of Public Works here, but then for about nine months he was the territorial governor of the District of Columbia.

SHEIR

00:02:36
Why only nine months?

CROUCH

00:02:37
Well, two things happened. He was removed from that position and the territorial government was dissolved by the Congress. The overspending of his budget, which was extravagant overspending and sort of these rumors that kept chasing him about sort of wheeling and dealing that might not have been above board caused the Congress just to lose confidence in the leadership. And that was the end of home rule in Washington, D.C. for 100 years. It didn't come back until the 1970s.

SHEIR

00:03:13
And what became of Boss Shepherd? Did he hang his head in shame and walk away with his tail between his legs?

CROUCH

00:03:19
He was not that type of person. Sadly, he does all this for the city, makes the city look worthy of the nation's capital. Sadly for him, there was a depression in 1873 and he had to file bankruptcy I think in 1876. So he had to figure out what his second act was going to be. He decides to take a chance on silver mining. Moves his family to the Chihuahua State in Mexico, reopens an abandoned silver mine, doesn't make a big success of it.

CROUCH

00:03:59
It doesn't kind of recoup his original fortune that he made here in Washington, because he also early on had invested in real estate here at a time when nobody was investing in real estate. So he wasn't able to recoup that. He spent the last 22 years of his life living in Mexico. That's where he died, but, you know what? He's buried in Rock Creek Cemetery, right in his hometown.

SHEIR

00:04:24
And now he has this statue here on 14th and E, but I understand this is not the original home of this statue.

CROUCH

00:04:29
Well, this actually is very close to the original home of the statue. It was placed here in 1909. So in 1909 people then are wanting to pay tribute to him, this man who did so much for the look, the infrastructure, the built environment of their hometown, their city. And this statute stood here for many decades.

CROUCH

00:04:51
Then it was moved, when the Federal Triangle project occurred, not far from here, in this vicinity. But then in the 1970s it was removed from this area. And it had this rather inauspicious home on Shepherd Street Southwest, which is right by the Blue Plains water treatment facility. And that's where his statue stayed for a few decades. And it seems that his reputation as someone who mishandled money, maybe didn't manage things very well, maybe did indulge in cronyism, that dominated a lot of discussions about Alexander Shepherd.

CROUCH

00:05:38
Then there was a group of Washingtonians who had just about enough of that because they realized that that may be true, but the contributions that he made to Washington could not go unsung. And that his statute needed to back here as a reminder of the important role he had in really creating a Washington D.C. that was worthy to be called nation's capital. So this organization, called the Association of Oldest Inhabitants started a campaign to get this statue back here. And by 2005 it was re-erected on this site.

CROUCH

00:06:15
A few years later, funding was acquired to have it restored, cleaned and shined up nicely. Lighting was added so at night when you drive by you can see him. And they put on their website, the nicest encapsulation about Boss Shepherd. You know, all the story about him is there, but certainly you can read their account of his life in Washington and see that he really gave a lot to our city. A controversial person, but one who really deserved to be remembered and I think, in many people's minds, honored and thanks for what he did.

SHEIR

00:06:53
Carolyn Crouch is the owner and founder of Washington Walks. For more on Alexander Shepherd and to find that AOI website Carolyn mentioned, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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