Posts by epiphany

August 21: John Carnaan Harkness (1886)

In an 1884 pamphlet describing Washington D.C.’s prominent citizens, the following is said of John C. Harkness. “Mr. Harkness has always been in the front rank, and the many positions of trust held by him make him conspicuous in our history, and he is well known as one of Washington’s ablest architects and builders for the last half century.” It was to Harkness that Epiphany’s vestry turned when it came time to build their new church. That decision was mostly prompted by the fact that at $7220, he was the lowest out of five bids. The cornerstone for the new building was laid on August 14, 1843 and the first service was held on July 7, 1844. Although augmented and modified several times over the years, that original building forms the nucleus of Epiphany’s worship space today.

A native Washingtonian, Harkness began his career as a carpenter and builder, but developed into an architect. In addition to Epiphany, Harkness was the builder and/or architect for Luther Place Memorial Church on Thomas Circle, the Washington City Orphan Asylum and the original Children’s Hospital at 13th and V Streets, N.W.. When the extensions of the U.S. Capitol were built, Harkness served as the “sworn government measurer of marble work.” A civic minded man, Harkness served on the D.C. city council and waged an unsuccessful campaign for mayor in 1846. Harkness was known as a devoted Christian. He was a Methodist and initially a member of Foundry Church, which at the time was located at the end of the block from Epiphany. In 1844-45, McKendree Methodist Church was founded, mostly as an outgrowth of a Sunday School Harkness started in his carpentry shop.

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August 20: Joseph Janvier Woodward (1884)

During the Civil War, Lt. Col. J.J. Woodward produced several publications on war-related diseases. Dr. Woodward assisted and wrote reports on the autopsies of both Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth. He also attended President James A. Garfield following his assassination. Woodward was a native of Philadelphia and received his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania. With the outbreak of the war, he entered the army as assistant surgeon and spent most of his military career in the Surgeon General’s Office in Washington. At the end of the war he was placed in charge of the pension division of the office, of the medical collection of the Army Medical Museum, and of the preparation of the medical portion of the Medical and Surgical History of the War. Just before the end of the war, Dr. Woodward’s first child with his second wife was baptized at Epiphany.

In announcing Dr. Woodward’s death, the Surgeon General stated, “With such a record it is needless to speak of his zeal, his ambition, or his devotion to his profession, and especially to the reputation of the corps of which he was so bright an ornament.” At the time of his death, Dr. Woodward was a member and ex-President of the American Medical Association, a member and ex-President of the Washington Philosophical Society, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, of the Association for the Advancement of Science, of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, and of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Philadelphia.

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August 19: Spencer Fullerton Baird (1887)

In 1878, the Smithsonian Board of Regents unanimously elected Spencer F. Baird as the second Secretary of the Institution following the death of Secretary Joseph Henry. Baird had joined the institution in 1850 as its first curator. As Secretary, Baird carefully oversaw construction of the U.S. National Museum, which opened in 1881. A culmination of Baird’s lifelong dream, the new museum provided large exhibit spaces with both natural and electric light. Also during his tenure, Smithsonian taxidermists began to keep live animals behind the Castle as models for their exhibit specimens. These soon became a popular attraction for young visitors, and led to the creation of the National Zoological Park. The Bureau of American Ethnology was also created under Baird to document Native American cultures.

After Secretary Baird died on August 19, 1887, the U.S. National Museum Building was draped in mourning the following day. During his thirty-seven years at the Institution, he had transformed the U.S. National Museum into the premier museum in the United States, and he trained a cadre of young naturalists who continued his research and collecting. Baird was an exuberant enthusiast who wanted the Institution to play an important role in the lives of all U.S. citizens. His passion for collections and public education altered the previous path of the Institution and brought new meaning to its motto of “the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” Baird’s funeral took place at Epiphany in 1887, followed by his wife’s in 1891 and his daughter’s in 1913.

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August 18: William McDowell Birney (1907)

William Birney was a Union Army general during the Civil War who was noted for encouraging thousands of free black men to join the Union Army. Birney’s father was a prominent Southern abolitionist leader and was a two-time presidential candidate for the anti-slavery Liberty Party. The younger Birney attended Centre College in Kentucky and Yale before beginning a law practice in Cincinnati. He then lived for five years in Europe. He was a professor of English literature and took an active part in the revolutionary movement in France in 1848. Returning to the United States, he established a newspaper in Philadelphia. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Birney became captain of a company which he had raised in New Jersey. He served until the close of the war, rising regularly through all the grades to Brevet Major General of Volunteers. He was appointed as one of three superintendents in charge of enlisting colored troops and in that capacity organized seven regiments.

Birney resided in Florida for several years after the war before moving north in 1874 to establish a law practice in Washington, D.C. He served as U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and was also a school board trustee. Shortly after removing to the nation’s capital, Birney and his family became associated with Epiphany. Birney’s mother-in-law was buried from the church in 1873. Two teenage daughters were baptized and then confirmed there two weeks later. One of those daughters, Florence Hallowell, married Randolph Getchell at the church in 1876.

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August 17: Henry Metcalfe (1927)

Epiphany’s parish register records the marriage of Henry Metcalfe and Harriet P. Nichols at the church on April 21, 1870. Listed as witnesses are Generals William Tecumseh Sherman and George Meade. Sherman would have been Commanding General of the Army at the time. Meade’s distinguished career included commanding the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War, famously defeating Lee at Gettysburg in 1863. Metcalfe graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1868 with a commission in ordnance. He was the Executive Ordnance Assistant at Springfield Armory where, in 1873, he invented the first detachable magazine for small arms.

In 1876, as a first lieutenant, Captain Metcalfe prepared the ordnance display for the Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia. He then prepared an extensive and detailed report of the War Department participation in the exhibition. The report included details of United States and foreign ordnance displays and thus constituted a valuable reference on ordnance material. As an instructor at West Point in ordnance and gunnery in 1886, he wrote a book on the subject that brought the whole course up to date. This task, with the wide research and mathematical calculations it necessitated, had a recognized effect in reforming the Military Academy’s curriculum. Metcalfe died on August 17, 1927 and was buried at the Post Cemetery at West Point.

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August 16: Anna Maria Brodeau Thornton (1865)

Anna Thornton was a prominent Washington, D.C. socialite in the early days of the capital city. She mingled with many significant political figures. Her diaries, kept from 1798 until her death in 1865, and maintained in the Library of Congress today, provide an interesting glimpse into life in the nation’s capital in the 19th Century. Anna was born in England and immigrated to the United States at a young age with her mother. Settling first in Philadelphia, Mrs. Brodeau set up and ran a successful school for girls. In 1790, 16-year old Anna married William Thornton, who was also an immigrant, born in the West Indies. Thornton was twice Anna’s age and had a medical education from Scotland and England. He did not care for doctoring and found his calling in architecture. He won the design contest for the U.S. Capitol in 1793 and the couple soon moved to Washington, D.C.

Anna’s diaries record her husband’s architectural career, designing homes for Washington’s elite. Among his commissions were John Tayloe’s Octagon House and Thomas and Martha Custis Peter’s Tudor Place. Anna’s writings also tell of her unofficial work as her husband’s assistant. She was his draftsman translating ideas into drawings and maps. The Thorntons maintained a lively social life with the wealthy and influential and entertained with flair in their home at 1331 F Street, NW. Anna outlived her husband by almost 40 years. Following her death on August 16, 1865, Anna Maria Thornton’s funeral was at Epiphany before her burial at Congressional Cemetery beside her husband.

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August 15: John Henry Hopkins, Jr.+ (1891)

“Star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright, westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect light.” Without doubt, there is no Christmas carol that evokes the story of the Epiphany more than “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” The words and music of this beloved song were written in 1857 by John Henry Hopkins, Jr. as part of a Christmas pageant for his nieces and nephews. How appropriate it is that there is a connection between Hopkins and the Church of the Epiphany in Washington. Hopkins was the third of eleven children and oldest son of John Henry Hopkins, Sr. and Melusian Muller Hopkins. In his life, the elder Hopkins was an artist, lawyer, ironmonger, musician, theologian and architect. He is the one who introduced Gothic architecture to the United States. Hopkins, Sr. became the first Bishop of Vermont and the eighth Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.

After graduation from the University of Vermont, the younger Hopkins worked as a reporter in New York City while studying law. During this time, he received a call to ordained ministry. After study at General Theological Seminary (GTS), Hopkins was ordained a deacon in 1850. In the late summer of that year, Deacon Hopkins filled in at Epiphany for rector John French for about six weeks during an illness. Five baptisms and five burials in the parish register during this period are labeled “By Rev. J.H. Hopkins, Jr. Deacon.” It would be seven more years before Hopkins would write his famous song, but there is no doubt that it was inspired by his time at Epiphany Church, Washington. Hopkins would later become GTS’s first instructor in church music. Hopkins was ordained a priest in 1872 and served parishes in Pennsylvania and New York. Hopkins delivered the eulogy at the funeral of President Ulysses S. Grant.

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August 14: Laying of Cornerstone (1843)

“New Episcopal Church – The ceremony of laying the corner-stone of the Epiphany Episcopal Church, on G Street, between 13th and 14th Streets, took place last Monday evening in the presence of a large and attentive congregation. A procession, consisting of the reverend clergy, the several vestries, and Sunday school children, walked from the Apollo Hall to the site of the new building, where the ceremonies were opened by the Rev. Messrs. Harris and Bean. The Rev. Mr. Butler, of Georgetown, delivered an appropriate and excellent address. The Rev. Mr. French closed the ceremonies with a very eloquent prayer. The addresses and ceremonies were altogether impressive and becoming this solemn occasion.”

With this article in The National Intelligencer, news of the laying of Epiphany’s cornerstone was announced to the world. Although to put this in context, it must be noted that this article fell underneath and in smaller font than one entitled, “Fine Peaches,” which extolled the bumper crop of this tasty fruit available at the Center Market in Washington. The cornerstone laying didn’t go off without a hitch. Epiphany’s rector had wanted the bishop to be present, but could not at the last minute, so the rector’s clergy colleague and former school chum, Clement Moore Butler, rector of St. John’s, Georgetown, (see photo) gave the address. Heavy summer rains had forced the postponement of the ceremony three times. Even on August 14, the large gathering had to brave a shower before the ceremony was over, or some might just call it a renewal of baptismal vows. Within a year, the Epiphany congregation would inhabit their first permanent worship space.

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August 13: Thornton Alexander Jenkins (1893)

Thornton A. Jenkins was an officer in the United States Navy, who served during the Mexican-American War and the American Civil War. He later served as Chief of the Bureau of Navigation and as President of the United States Naval Institute. A Virginia native, Jenkins entered the Navy as a midshipman and served first in the West Indies in an expedition against pirates and slavers. Examined for a commission as a lieutenant, he placed first among 82 candidates. During the Mexican-American War, Jenkins led landing parties from his ship at Tuxpan and Tabasco. Jenkins’ Civil War service was distinguished. He served as chief of staff to Admiral Farragut. He was present at the Battle of Mobile Bay and heard Farragut utter the famous line, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.” Jenkins became a Rear Admiral in 1870 and commanded the Asiatic Squadron until his retirement in 1873.

Jenkins’ Epiphany connections begin in 1853 with the confirmation of his second wife, Elizabeth, five years after their marriage.  One of his daughters from this marriage was baptized and three were confirmed at Epiphany. Later two of his daughters were married at the church. A recent connection to the family was in the 2016 true-story movie, Florence Foster Jenkins starring Meryl Streep. New York heiress and opera singer wannabe Florence Foster married Frank Jenkins, one of Admiral Jenkins’ sons. Even though the marriage was short lived, Florence retained the Jenkins surname. When Admiral Jenkins died in 1893, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

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August 12: Henry Lee Heiskell (1855)

After receiving his degree in medicine from the University of Pennsylvania in 1828, Henry Lee Heiskell was appointed assistant surgeon in the U.S. Army and later rose to the rank of surgeon. After serving in various stations, he was called to the City of Washington in 1840 and assigned to duty in the Medical Department, as assistant to the Surgeon-General. In this position he remained until his death, a period of fifteen years, having in that time repeatedly received the appointment of Acting Surgeon-General, and discharged all the duties of that office. To the performance of the highly responsible, and often delicate, duties devolving upon him, Surgeon Heiskell brought a clear, comprehensive, and sound judgment, and an elevated sense of honor and justice.

Through his first marriage, Heiskell became a stepfather – apparently both a loving and well loved one – to Mary Julia Baldwin. During the Civil War, Mary would become headmistress of her Staunton, Virginia alma mater, Augusta Female Seminary, then built it over many decades into the institution that bears her name today, Mary Baldwin University. Heiskell’s second wife was Elizabeth Kortright Gouverneur, granddaughter of President James Monroe. The marriage of Elizabeth’s parents was the first to be held in the White House. The youngest of Henry and Elizabeth’s children, Sydney Otho Heiskell, was baptized at Epiphany in 1853. Henry was confirmed at the church a year later, and then his burial is recorded in the parish register following his death on August 12, 1855. His obituary stated, “with a firm reliance upon the promises of the Saviour, he awaited his final orders and became a true soldier of the cross.”

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