Willard's Hotel, but a block from the White House in Washington DC, was quite the most famous and probably one of, if not the leading plush hotel in the entire country.
Every President for the day from the mid 1850's till today would stay at... or participate in one or more events at the Willard. Royalty would stay there, as would many a General.
One famous general of the day to stay at Willard's was Tom Thumb, mention in earlier columns in this space. He once got lost(?) apparently traveling from Halifax to Dartmouth NS, just a few minutes ride on a ferryboat. When the call came for his stage appearance, no one could find him. He fell asleep in the COAT POCKET of his stage manager. (Use the search engine in upper right to find the blog for a refresher.)
Other Willard guests included Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Sam Morse, the Duke of Windsor and Harry Houdini who also appeared at Halifax for a performance.
Yet another guest was Charles Dickens, who had earlier attending one of the openings of the Nova Scotia legislature, the smallest such government building in all of the Canadian provinces. He would later describe his experiences like..."looking at Westminster through the wrong end of a telescope."
Other Willard guests included Gypsy Rose Lee, Gloria Swanson, Emily Dickinson and Alfred Loyd George. Still more included PT Barnum and Buffalo Bill Cody, who would one day be awarded the US Medal of Honor for bravery during some of his bravery whilst serving as an Indian scout.
Cody earned his nickname by killing some 4,280 Buffalo in 18 months to supply meat for the workers on the rail line for the Pacific Railway Company. His wild west shows traveled in and out of the states, Canada and beyond. In 1988 over 150 relatives came from across North America to an area now known as Mississauga Ontario, just west of Toronto to hold an International Cody Family Convention.
Our own late Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau visited DC and attended a stag event at Willard's in his honor many years ago.
In 1963 Martin Luther King also stayed at the Willard. And it was from here that the title of these blogs comes. In his words ... I have a dream... have become famous and were written within the walls of the Willard hotel.
That speech was only 14 minutes long but it got some attention. Actually lots of it! Below is the photo of this iconic American.
The event marked the movement known as the March to Washington for jobs and freedoms in July 1963.
Before signing off today, I must tell you about a story so integral to the story of the Medal Of Honor, and the very reason for these blogs. It also has a connection to Willard's Hotel.
Just previous to the Civil War in the US, the American government knew that it needed a lot of higher ranking officers that had been at war in the past. So they sought out trained military men from around the world. Indicative to the fact that when one looks at the numbers of Medals of Honor from the Civil War they soon realize that one in I believe 4 medals, during that war went to non Americans from around the world.
So in the early days the streets of DC were often crowded with wanna be USA military officers, wearing the gear from their home countries and hopping to get hired on with the Union forces. In very early 1861, crowds were moving about outside of the Willard hotel roaming the street in their own country uniforms.
Lt Col. Edward Townsend, the then serving Adjutant General was amongst the crowd one day and saw a youth trying to look out above the crowd to see all these foreign officers parading about. Townsend approach a fellow and learned that he was a 14 year old drummer boy serving in the Union army.
When asking the youth about what he had seen, and what most impressed him the child looked up at the Lt. Colonel. He said ... It's the medals sir.. It's all the medals they have."
Now at that time things were not going well for the Union army. It had suffered many losses to the Confederates and Townsend thought that he had a solution to help the Union troops work harder and the increased morale could help them on the battle front. If they too... had some medals to show their comrades, hopes would be that those soldiers and sailors would fight even harder for the cause.
The Adjutant General took this idea and shared it with Edward M Stanton, the current Secretary of War. He proposed a medal for gallantry and distinguished service. Such would hopefully inspire the young aspirants to glory. A week later he again visited Stanton and the Secretary of the Navy... Gideon Welles was present.
Townsend was told to go lightly because it was known that the Secretary for the Army disliked the idea, though he himself had a chestful of medals. Welles, representing the Navy had no such problem and moved forward with a proposal that soon saw the creation of the first ever US Medal Honor, and it was just for the navy men. Soon the army then followed suit but this was several months later.
I suspect that most Canadians and Americans, including those who have earned the Medal and are still alive today, (about 66) know nothing or little about the materials you have just read within this very blog.
And that folks, is a shame!
See you next week,