- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 13, 2003

At first glance, Washington hardly seems the kind of place that fosters true love. Scandal yes, affairs of course, but not the kind of heartfelt passion associated with Paris or New York.
Dig deeper. From the shores of the Potomac through downtown, Capitol Hill and beyond, Washington is home to some great love stories.
This Valentine's Day, put aside the flowers and the chocolate. Take your love in hand and follow the trail of Washington lovers as it wends its way through May-December romances, passionate power couples and just a hint the merest of scandal.


Tales of Georgetown Love

Yes, there is a story behind those three large rocks in the Potomac just west of Key Bridge. They're called the Three Sisters, and they mark the spot of a long-ago love story, when Indian settlements lined the shores of the Potomac.
According to the tale, three sisters drowned as they were swimming to reach their lovers on the other side. Just before the last one sank, she cursed the spot. No one, she swore, would ever be able to cross the river at that point. To this day, no bridge built at the point of the three sisters has been able to last.

Then there's the tale of Baron Alexandre de Bodisco, envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary from the Russia of Czar Nicholas I. In 1837 he had a chance encounter at a party with the 16-year-old Harriet Beall Williams.
Besotted, the 52-year-old spent the next two years carrying Harriet's schoolbooks and currying favor with her tobacco-merchant father and his wife, a member of the long-established Beall family (so long established that Georgetown, in fact, stands on a piece of Ninian Beall's Rock of Dunbarton grant, a 1703 acquisition from Lord Baltimore).
Known to gossips as "Beauty and the Beast," they married in 1840, when Harriet was 18. The bridesmaids included Sen. Thomas Hart Benton's 14-year-old daughter, Jessie. According to the "AIA Guide to the Architecture of Washington," Sen. Henry Clay of Kentucky gave the bride away and the reception was attended by President Van Buren and members of his cabinet.
The union was by all accounts extremely happy; Harriet bore the baron seven sons and was with him when he died in 1854. Later, she moved to England and married a man much younger than she.
Georgetown even boasts a lover's lane, on the corner of 31st and R streets, just west of Montrose Park. The old road, listed as "Lover's Lane" on maps dating from the 19th century, wends its way down to Rock Creek Park.


Gilded Age and after
Today, it's the headquarters of the Society of the Cincinnati, but the structure at 2118 Massachusetts Ave. was built between 1902 and 1905 as a private home with an eye toward entertaining by Larz Anderson of Cincinnati, a noted American diplomat and descendant of officers in the Revolutionary and Civil wars.
In 1896, while serving in the U.S. Embassy in Rome, he had the very good fortune to fall in love with the debutante Isabel Weld Perkins, who was then making her grand tour.
The lady was supposed to be in Europe to catch herself a prince or at least a count. Instead, she fell in love with the sensible and savvy Anderson, bringing to their marriage her own indomitable sense of style and a fortune of $20 million.
"Of all of Boston's author's club, You are the dearest little dub," wrote Anderson at the beginning of a Valentine's Day message shortly before their marriage. He would continue to write love notes to her and she to him until his death in 1937.

A few blocks north is Woodrow Wilson's last residence after his presidency. Most people are familiar with the public Wilson, the intellectual former president of Princeton University, the avid proponent of the League of Nations, but few are aware of the depths of feeling he held for his second wife, Edith Bolling Galt.
In October 1915, less than a year after they met at a White House tea, he wrote:
My precious darling, The more we are together the more I love you, the more I need to have you always with me, and the more inadequate written words become to speak my heart to you…
I cannot express in written words, either, the happiness you gave me last night. How unspeakably lovely and delightful you are and how altogether satisfying and how empty and lonely the house is without you…
I love, love, love you.
Your own, Woodrow

To be sure, scandals involving the romantic liaisons of the presidents are easy to come by, so it's somewhat reassuring to find tales of presidential couples who were actually in love. John and Abigail Adams, Ulysses and Julia Grant, and Grover and Frances Folsom Cleveland were all devoted to each other even accounting for the fact that Grover had fathered an illegitimate child before he met Frances.
In the 20th century, the Wilsons, the Fords, the Carters and the Reagans head the list of presidential couples who remained passionately attached.


Life and Love on Lafayette Square

Predictably, scandal and true love could also touch the president's neighbors on nearby Lafayette Square. In the 1870s, Henry and Marian Hooper "Clover" Adams, possessed of clever wit and ready with trenchant observations on Washington manners, entertained literary society in their home at 16th and H streets on the square. The house was torn down in 1927, and the Hay-Adams Hotel was built on the spot.
Clover Adams, whom Henry James once described as "a perfect Voltaire in petticoats," had suffered from bouts of depression since her marriage in 1872. In 1885, after the unexpected death of her father, Henry returned home to find her lying on the floor. She had taken a dose of potassium cyanide, in common use at the time as a developing fluid.
Following her suicide, Henry destroyed all references to Clover in his autobiography. Even so, he commissioned popular sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to fashion a monument for her grave in Rock Creek Cemetery, at Rock Creek Church Road and Webster Street NW.
Saint-Gaudens called the 6-foot bronze figure, so heavily enshrouded that its expression is not even visible, "The Mystery of the Hereafter." When Henry died at age 80 in 1918, he was buried beside his wife, but nothing but the statue marks the spot.

Then there was the passion of Dan Sickles. A socialite, philanderer and member of Congress from New York City, Sickles made news in 1852 when, at the age of 33, he married the 15-year-old Italian Teresa Bagioli. But the best or the worst was yet to come.
After the couple moved to Washington, Sickles was apparently too wrapped up in his own affairs to devote much time to Teresa. In his absence, she took up with Philip Barton Key, the district attorney for Washington and the son of Francis Scott Key, who wrote the words set to music that became "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Their steamy affair, complete with hand signals and a place of assignation on nearby 15th Street, set tongues wagging in parlors from Capitol Hill to Georgetown. The two were seen riding together in carriages, or strolling arm in arm along the paths of Congressional Cemetery. Yet Sickles himself seemed blissfully unaware of the affair, until an anonymous note revealed all.
In broad daylight on Feb. 27, 1859, Sickles murdered Key in front of his club at 722 Jackson Place (now the Court of Claims building.) The congressman got off, though, thanks to a panel of eight prominent lawyers, including future Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who argued for a temporary disorder of mind. It was the first time in American history that the temporary insanity plea was used.


Willard's
The Willard Inter-Continental Washington hotel or Willard's, as it was known in the 19th century has been home to presidents, friends of presidents and assorted hangers-on since the 1850s.
Henry Clay mixed Washington's first mint julep here, at the Round Robin Bar. Abraham Lincoln stayed here for 10 days with his family before his 1861 inauguration, running up a $775 tab. Theodore Roosevelt's headstrong daughter Alice created quite a stir when she lit up a smoke in a Willard dining room.
Of course, there are more than a few love affairs to throw into the mix.
In 1852, promoter P.T. Barnum brought Swedish soprano Jenny Lind to town. Ensconced at Willard's, she performed at the National Theater and fought off suitors by the dozen.
Today, honeymooners can stay in the Willard's Jenny Lind suite, a sprawling, up-and-down space with a spectacular view of the Washington Monument.

During the Civil War, one of the Willard brothers was involved in his own love story. Commissioned a major in the Union Army, young Joe Willard was stationed in Fairfax, where he fell in the love with the beautiful Antonia Ford. Unfortunately, what Willard didn't know was that the lady was a spy.
Even when he found out, it didn't seem to matter very much to Willard, who used his influence to get Ford released from the Old Capitol Prison. He then resigned his commission and the two were married.
Weddings and the Willard seem to go together. One of the most extravagant occurred in 1883, when a fresh-faced Elizabeth McCourt "Baby" Doe married the newly divorced Sen. Horace Tabor in a lavish ceremony attended by President Arthur.
Neither told the priest who married them of their previous marriages, and the president was chagrined to learn that the two had already been married for three months.


Love on the Hill and eastward

Capitol Hill has always had a reputation for romance of the illicit variety. In the early days of the District, few senators and congressmen brought their families to the city. Instead, they stayed for months in small boarding houses clustered around the Hill. This arrangement was not always the best recipe for fidelity.
But a number of early congressmen spent most of their spare time writing to their wives or waiting for letters from home.
"May Heaven keep you and the little ones," wrote a homesick Congressman William Few of Georgia to his wife in 1791.
Congressman and future president James Garfield wrote to his sick wife, Lucretia, on Committee of Appropriations stationery in 1874:
"When you are sick I am like the inhabitants of countries inhabited by earthquake. Your sickness is my earthquake."
Garfield's wife would outlive him by 36 years.

Just a few doors down from the Library of Congress, where these letters and others like them are housed, is the Folger Shakespeare Library.
Now considered one of the world's finest collections of Shakespearean and related materials, the Folger was built in 1930 by Henry Clay Folger and Emily Jordan Folger as part of a shared vision and a shared passion for collecting.
"They really worked as a pair," says Folger librarian Richard J. Kuhta. "They didn't seem to require a lot of society. They had a life together and they were somewhat removed from the rest of the world."
Sadly, Henry Folger died shortly after the cornerstone for the building was laid. His wife made it through the uncertainties of the Great Depression, at one time selling her Standard Oil stock in order to ensure that the building would progress as planned.
"This was her monument to him," says Mr. Kuhta. "She was the one who kept it going."

Among Washington lovers, one of the more fortunate was certainly Frederick Douglass, who had not one but two great loves. The first was Anna, his wife of 44 years, who helped him escape from slavery and raised their four children alone while Douglass was away.
When Anna died in 1882, Douglass ordered her room sealed. It was not reopened until after his death in 1895.
In 1884, Douglass married Helen Pitts, the daughter of a white New York abolitionist who had come to Washington and worked for a time as Douglass' secretary while he was Recorder of Deeds.
The two shared a love of music as well as a passion for books and each other. Yet Helen apparently was a bit jealous of Douglass' time, thanks to the steady flow of friends and relatives that streamed through their Anacostia home at 1411 W St. SE. That's probably why she embroidered the pillow now on view at the house. It contains a message for all lovers, young or old.
"Two's company," it reads. "Three's a crowd."

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