MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I’m Rebecca Sheir. And after breaking for most of August, the U.S. Congress reconvenes this coming Monday. So you know what that means, let the political celebrity sightings begin. Because, yeah, we're not Hollywood, okay, but here in Washington, D.C. we do have our share of aluminate, from Senators and Representatives to a certain world famous resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. So on this week's show, we're exploring the theme of Fame.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Only we decided to go beyond all the famous monuments and memorials for which Washington is best known, and head out to, say, the Chesapeake Bay, where you'll find a famous, but endangered, island.
MR. CHRIS PARKS
It is the closest thing to Heaven I'll ever get to on this Earth.
We'll meet the women recreating the legendary flag that once waved over Baltimore's Fort McHenry.
MS. KRISTIN SCHENNING
This flag, the Star Spangled Banner, it really does say something about who we are and what we find important.
And we'll check out a new play that explores the lesser-known side of one of Washington's most famous inventors.
MR. JEREMY SKIDMORE
I think most people who see this play, good Lord, I didn't know Alexander Graham Bell had anything to do with that.
Plus, we'll hear about a more infamous local character, the man who founded the American Nazi Party right here in Arlington, Va.
MS. HEIDI BEIRICH
Really, you know, he's responsible for creating neo-Nazism in the United States.
…Andy Warhol once said, "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes." But in a tiny town in Montgomery County…
This, my friends, is the sound of Brookeville, Md.
…you'll meet people who claim that…
I am looking for 205 Market Street.
…in the past…
…they were famous for about 15 hours.
So this would be it, the Madison House. There's a plaque on the side. "In this house, August 26th to the 27th, 1814, President James Madison and Richard Rush, Attorney General, were sheltered after the burning by the British of the public buildings at Washington."
And because the President took shelter in this house, in Brookeville, for one night during the War of 1812…
MS. SANDY HEILER
Brookevillers believe it was the capitol for a day.
Architectural historian Sandy Heiler owns the house with her husband, Duane.
I gave a little talk in Baltimore last year, and the person who introduced me said, "Since the founding of the United States, four places have served as its capital, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Brookeville, Md."
A little background, if, like me, you're a bit rusty on the War of 1812. The American Revolution against the British ended in 1781. But we didn't feel like our mother country was sufficiently backing off. So it wasn't long before we got fed up, and in June 1812, Congress declared war on Great Britain. We started off with our share of victories, but by 1814, the tide had turned. On Aug. 24, 1814, we lost the Battle of Bladensburg. And right after that, the British marched into Washington and set fire to a bunch of public buildings, pretty much destroying the U.S. Capitol and the White House in the process.
In the week, week and a half, leading up to that, when everybody knew that the enemy was coming and they had been really vicious. You know, on the Eastern Shore and other parts that were east of Washington, they burnt towns. And so people in Washington thought, that's what's in store for us.
So, says Sandy Heiler, everyone who could flee, did.
Wherever there was a road and there was a town at the end, that's where they fled.
In other words, places like…
Frederick and Leesburg.
Rockville, and Brookeville.
But Brookeville, Heiler says, was especially enticing. It was a Quaker village, populated by 150 generous, peaceful, law-abiding souls ready to feed, clothe and shelter even the strangest of strangers.
These are pacifists, but they took care of everyone. Everybody is equal in the eyes of God.
And since you weren't likely to find British soldiers anywhere near Brookeville…
The soldiers are to the east of Washington. They might be going to Annapolis. Or they're on the Potomac.
…the town was viewed as particularly secure.
So Secretary of State James Monroe warned the clerks at the Senate, the House of Representatives and the State Department to save the documents, and so the Senate clerk packed up the Senate's copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and the records from the beginning, and he had just bought a farm in Prince George's County, so he took them there. And when he gets there the boss said, no, Brookeville is much more secure than this. So they took them all the way back and up the Brookeville turnpike and brought them here.
Thus, says Heiler, for an on-the-run president looking for a place to, A, carry on governmental affairs, and, B, crash for the night, Brookeville looked pretty darn good. On the evening of Aug. 26, 1814, he arrived, along with General John Mason, some cabinet members, and 20 mounted troops, or dragoons.
They started across the street. They went to the biggest house in town, which belonged to the founder of the town, Richard Thomas. And for security reasons, the dragoons were not mentioning that the President was with them. And Richard Thomas -- I'm sure he regretted this later -- said, "I have absolutely no room. My house is completely filled with refugees from Georgetown and Washington."
So they crossed the street to this house, which was then owned by an engraver and acquaintance of the President, named Caleb Bentley.
And they agreed, yes, you know, we can take the party.
President Madison's first order of business was not so much governmental, as gustatory.
The President said he was really hungry. It's nine o'clock at night and they hadn't eaten since very early in the morning when they were still in Virginia. So the ladies here cooked the fifth dinner of the day and served it in this dining room.
And speaking of "this dining room," we probably should talk now about the house itself. It's changed ownership a number of times since 1814, and when Sandy and Duane Heiler bought it, seven years ago…
It was not in terrific shape.
But they've been working hard to fix it up and restore it to its former glory.
And we won the Washington Post's contest last year for the best restoration of a historic home in their area, which was Maryland, Virginia, the District.
Their efforts are especially noticeable in the front parlor.
Everything in this room is original. So this is the original hard pine floor and the windows. You know, some of the windows are cracked, but I hesitate to replace original glass just because it's broken.
But you'll find the house's main attraction up the creaky wooden stairs, on the second floor.
So this was Henrietta Bentley's bedroom. This was the best bedroom and so this was where the president stayed.
As for what might have constituted, "the best bedroom," in a house built in the 1790s, well, for one thing…
The fireplace mantle is bigger and fancier than the others.
And for another…
This room had a closet. Closets were just unheard of in the 1790s.
After the President's sleepover, he and his retinue returned to Washington, where he and his wife, Dolly, eventually settled at the Octagon House, just blocks from the White House. That's where, in December 1814, Madison signed the ratification papers for the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812. Now, the President's Brookeville visit was a short one, to be sure, but it's one the town's residents will never forget. As they're quick to tell you, it did make them U.S. Capital for a day, after all. That's why they're planning a big 200th-anniversary commemoration of the event for next Labor Day weekend.
Our objective is to come as close as we can to re-creating Brookeville in 1814. So we'll have all of these people doing living history. And then we'll have reenactments of the Senate clerk bringing the papers, the soldiers coming through, and finally President Madison and General Mason, who will be played by Governor O'Malley.
Sandy Heiler says 2014 will bring commemorations all across Maryland, but the Brookeville event, she says, is truly one-of-a-kind.
A lot of these commemorations will focus on the bravery of the military. And some of them will be commemorations of events that were pretty tragic, the burning of Havre de Grace. Saint Michael's was attacked. The Brookeville commemorations are really a celebration of incredibly brave, decent people who, as Henrietta Bentley who lived here said, "We welcome and give refuge to everyone." That's our goal.
On October 27th the town of Brookeville will hold a special Madison Supper to raise funds for next year's commemoration. For information on that supper and to see photographs of the Madison House, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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