Posts by epiphany

October 28: Thomas Jefferson Fisher (1888)

Thomas Jefferson Fisher was the founder of Thomas J. Fisher & Company, a prominent real estate firm in Washington in the late 19th Century. Fisher was born in Woodstock, Virginia, the son of German immigrant Friedrich Karl Fischer. The elder Fischer came to America in 1816 at age 26 and became known as Charles Fisher in his adopted country. He worked as a clerk in the Treasury Department for 20 years. Charles was extremely patriotic and named his first child and the subject of this article after third president Thomas Jefferson. A later child was named George Washington Fisher. Thomas Fisher started life with very little. He moved to Washington at age fifteen to find work. After several jobs he went to work in 1851 for Dyer & McGuire real estate auctioneers. Here, he found his niche. The firm made Fisher a partner. Fisher served on the city council and became president of Franklin Fire Co. In 1878, at the age of 55, Thomas J. Fisher founded, with Edward Stellwagen as the notary, the successful and profitable real estate firm which bore his name.

Thomas Fisher served as a director of the Children’s Hospital, the Foundling Asylum, the Night Lodging House, and Columbia Hospital. In 1845, Fisher married Charlotte Margaret Sioussa. Thomas and Charlotte had twelve children, of whom seven died young. The first mention in Epiphany’s records of the Fisher family is the baptism of fifth child Alice Fisher. Her burial is recorded four days later. The baptisms of four more children follow, with burials for two of them shortly thereafter. Happier times are recorded with the confirmation of wife Charlotte and the marriage of three daughters. The marriage of daughter Charlotte and Edward J. Stellwagen brought together two early Epiphany families. Wife Charlotte’s burial took place at Epiphany following her death at age 43. Thomas Jefferson Fisher died in 1888 at age 65. His funeral took place at Epiphany. Shortly after their father’s death, the Fisher children placed a stained glass window in memory of their parents. The window is on the west side of the nave near the transept and depicts Jesus as the good shepherd and the true light.

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October 27: Napoleon Bonaparte Harrison (1870)

Napoleon Bonaparte Harrison was a U.S. naval officer during the Mexican-American and Civil War. A native of Martinsburg, Virginia (now WV), Harrison was the youngest son of Dr. John S. Harrison and his wife Holland. Presumably named after famed French military leader Napoleon Bonaparte whose death was just two years before Harrison was born, it would seem it was preordained that Harrison would have a military career. Entering the naval service of the United States as Midshipman in 1838, he acquired experience in his profession under various commanders. In 1844 he was promoted to the rank of Passed Midshipman, and under Commodore Stockton, during the Mexican-American War, he was distinguished among the younger officers for courage and ability. He took part in the land expedition which rescued General Kearney’s command from a desperate position and on another occasion, having volunteered to carry an important message to a distant command in an open boat, he was carried out to sea and unable to make land for a week. The violence and persistence of the storm was matched by the firmness and skill of the young sailor, who finally brought back his boat and crew unharmed.

In 1850 Harrison was assigned to the Naval Observatory in Washington. During this time, he became associated with Epiphany. On February 21, 1850, he married Maria Wellford in the church. The couple’s first child, Lillian, was baptized at Epiphany. Nineteen years later, Lillian was confirmed there by Bishop Whittingham. During his Civil War service, Harrison exhibited “chivalric courage and intelligent coolness and impressed all who were near him, and won for him the respect and admiration of the whole service.” In 1868, he was commissioned Captain, and soon after ordered to duty at the Naval Academy as Commandant of Midshipmen. From there he was ordered to the command of the Congress, flagship of the North Atlantic Squadron, While at Key West, the Congress encountered violent weather, and in caring for the safety of the vessel, Captain Harrison so exposed himself to the storm that he died two days after.  His funeral was at Epiphany. He left behind him the reputation of a gallant, able and faithful officer and an honorable, amiable and agreeable gentleman.

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October 26: +John Dominique LaMothe (1928)

John Dominique LaMothe was a missionary bishop of Honolulu (Hawaii). The Episcopal Church in Hawaii had its origins in 1862 when King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma, devout members of the Church of England, established the Church of Hawaii. The King and Queen supported the Church’s establishment throughout the islands with gifts of land, and by the founding of churches, schools, and hospitals. With the overthrow in 1893 of Queen Liliuokalani, the last Hawaiian monarch, jurisdiction of the Church of Hawaii was given to American Episcopalians. Because it was a missionary district and not yet a diocese, bishops were chosen by the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church. John D. LaMothe became the second American missionary bishop of Honolulu in 1921 and served until his death in 1928.

Bishop LaMothe was born on the Isle of Man, a self-governing British Crown dependency in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland. At age 17, his father sent him to the United States to work on a farm in Virginia for the purpose of making him “more robust.” After a year, LaMothe went to Wyoming to work on a ranch. He later returned to Virginia and under the direction of Bishop John Poyntz Tyler, entered Virginia Seminary in 1869. After his ordination, LaMothe served in several parishes until 1901 when he came to Epiphany as an assistant minister under rector Randolph McKim. Leaving after an initial three years, he was so well regarded, he was recalled for a second round of service, and at an annual salary of $1800 became Epiphany’s first associate rector. Positions at St. Paul’s, New Orleans and Ascension, Baltimore followed until his election to the episcopate. While attending the 1928 General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., Bishop LaMothe fell ill and died. He was buried in Ivy Hill Cemetery in Alexandria, Virginia.

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October 25: General Convention (1898)

The General Convention is the primary governing and legislative body of the Episcopal Church. General Convention comprises two houses: the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops. It meets every three years. The first General Convention was held in Philadelphia in 1785. The thirty-ninth General Convention was held in Washington, D.C, October 5-25, 1898. It was the first time the governing body had met in the nation’s capital. The new Diocese of Washington had just been created at the previous General Convention. The presiding bishop at the 1898 convention was the Rt. Rev. John Williams of Connecticut. At the time the presiding bishop was the senior bishop of the church having jurisdiction. The president of the House of Deputies was the Rev. Morgan Dix, rector of Trinity Church, New York City. Of the eight delegates from the Diocese of Washington, Epiphany’s rector, Randolph McKim, was one of four clerical delegates and junior warden, William D. Baldwin, was one of four lay delegates. In total, about 70 of the 75 American bishops and 500 delegates attended the gathering.

In a time prior to large convention centers, General Conventions were typically held in large churches. The 1898 General Convention was held at the Church of the Epiphany. The church had completed a renovation in 1890 that included the enlargement of the chancel area.  Today’s parish house had not yet been built, but there was a Sunday school room behind the church. This is where the bishops held their business sessions. The House of Deputies held its sessions in the church, with the public being admitted to the galleries. At the conclusion of the convention, the House of Deputies through resolution gave thanks “to the Rector, Wardens, and Vestrymen of the Church of the Epiphany for the provision they have made for the comfort of the members of the Convention.” Thirty years later in 1928, the forty-ninth General Convention met in Washington, D.C. The main meetings were held on the Cathedral close and the Willard Hotel, but some meetings were held in Epiphany’s parish hall.

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October 24: Acceptance of Building Lots (1842)

From the Epiphany Vestry Minutes, October 24, 1842: At a special meeting of the Vestry of the Church of the Epiphany, held on Monday the 24th of October, the following proceedings took place. The meeting was opened with prayer by the Rector, the Rev’d. Mr. French, who then stated the object of the meeting to be for the purpose of taking into consideration the offer made by Miss Louisa Harrison to make a donation to the Church of two lots of ground owned by her, situated on G Street between 13th & 14th Streets on Square 252, numbered 3 & 4. Whereupon it was Resolved that the Vestry do unanimously agree to accept of said donation, & pledge themselves to apply said lots of ground to the object designed by the Donor, to wit, to the erection thereon of a Protestant Episcopal Church Building. It was further Resolved that the Rev’d. John W. French & Messrs. Edwards and Wm. James be constituted a Committee to wait upon Miss Harrison & inform her of the proceedings of this meeting, & express to her in behalf of the Vestry the deep sense of gratitude entertained by them for her truly Christian and munificent donation. The said Committee are also authorized to employ at the expense of the Church a competent Lawyer to prepare a Deed of Conveyance & submit the same for the consideration of the Vestry at a subsequent meeting of the body.

From a letter of the Rev. J.W. French to Bishop Whittingham, October 31, 1842: God is still gracious to us. We have received a donation of two large lots in a good place for building, near our present position; large enough for church, parsonage, garden, and (they say if we wished it) school house. The value must be over three thousand dollars.

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October 23: Adolph Charles Torovsky, Jr. (1967)

Adolph Torovsky, affectionately known as “Mr. T,” was Epiphany’s organist and choirmaster for almost 50 years, serving under seven rectors. Torovsky was born into a musical family in Annapolis, Maryland, where his father led the Naval Academy Band for many years. At the age of 14, Torovsky played the organ at St. Ann’s Church in Annapolis, but with embarrassment due to the fact his legs were too short to reach the pedals. In 1914, Torovsky graduated with honors from the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, receiving its highest award, the Teachers’ Certificate. He then became organist and choir director at St. Michael and All Angels Church in Baltimore. He was called to Epiphany in 1919 after serving in World War I in the Naval Academy Band under his father’s direction. On November 11, 1921, he directed the choir at the ceremony in Arlington Cemetery, when the Unknown Soldier of World War I was buried there.

When Epiphany first decided that its bells would ring daily, Torovsky climbed the ladder daily and played them manually from a console in the tower. Later, he played the chimes from an auxiliary keyboard of the organ. In addition to teaching piano and organ to private students for many years, Torovsky also taught at Mount Vernon Seminary and Junior College and at American University. He served as dean of the Washington Chapter of the American Guild of Organists. Among the works he composed was the Christmas song, “Softly the Stars Were Shining.” A new organ for Epiphany was in the works when Torovsky died in 1967. An Aeolian-Skinner organ, Opus 1485, dedicated in 1968 and still in use today, became a memorial to Torovsky. Following his death on October 23, 1967, Adolph Torovsky’s funeral was at Epiphany. The choir, which he directed for so many years, provided the music.

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October 22: Asbury Dickins (1861)

Asbury Dickins served as Secretary of the U.S. Senate for 25 years. Dickins’ service coincided with the Senate’s “Golden Age,” a period of national political turmoil that propelled the Senate to the front rank of America’s political institutions.  In its increasingly jammed chamber, the “Great Triumvirate” of Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John C. Calhoun held forth on the divisive issues of territorial expansion.  During Dickins’ tenure, sixteen additional senators from eight new states took their places in that chamber. Prior to his appointment as Secretary, Dickins had worked as a publisher, a bookseller, and as chief clerk in the Treasury and then the State Department. When Dickins took over the position in 1836, the Secretary’s Office consisted of six clerks and one messenger. Within the Secretary’s Office, the growth in the Senate’s membership and national stature brought additional staff and more detailed job descriptions.

Asbury Dickins, aged 62, with eight children and numerous grandchildren, appears to have been associated with Epiphany from its founding. The baptisms of two of his granddaughters took place in early 1844, before the initial church building was completed. Over the next several decades, there are at least 16 entries of baptisms, confirmations, and burials for members of his family. Asbury Dickins helped direct the Senate’s institutional activities at a time of vast political growth and turmoil.  That he survived several changes in party control attests to the bipartisan respect he earned for his office.  On July 15, 1861, with hostile armies maneuvering to seize Washington, the eighty-year-old Secretary reluctantly retired and died soon thereafter.  Since that time, no successor has witnessed as much institutional change or come within reach of his longevity record. The funeral of Asbury Dickins took place from Epiphany Church before his interment in Congressional Cemetery amongst those he served so faithfully.

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October 21: Susan Roosevelt Osterhout Ver Planck (1902)

At the outbreak of the Civil War, the nursing profession was in its infancy and dominated by men. Increasing numbers of casualties and the overburdening of aide facilities soon broke down gender-related strictures on nursing and spurred the nation’s women into taking action. In April 1861, Dorothea Dix staged a march on Washington, demanding that the government recognize their desire to aid the Union’s wounded. Secretary of War Simon Cameron quickly named her to superintend the women nurses assigned to the U.S. Army. Despite such responsibilities, however, neither she nor her nurses were granted military appointments. By nature compassionate and giving, Dix was also a no-nonsense and often quirky leader. At first she required nursing applicants to be at least 30 years old and ‘plain looking,’ wearing brown or black clothing with no ornaments, bows, curls, jewelry or hoops. Despite these stringent requirements, some 2,000 women laid aside their cherished jewels and laces to pass Dix’s austere muster. As casualties mounted, Dix was forced to relax her standards, and after the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861 she accepted anyone willing to work. Her nurses were paid 40 cents a day plus rations, housing and transportation.

One of these volunteer nurses was Susan Roosevelt Osterhout Ver Planck. She was from New York City and about 35 years old at the outbreak of the war. With several other women, she came to Washington to serve as a nurse. Records indicate she was present when the first exchange of prisoners took place in July 1862. She was attached to the various hospitals in Washington and aboard the transports between Washington and New York. Following her death on October 21, 1902, her funeral took place at Epiphany Church prior to her burial at Arlington. A newspaper obituary stated, “Into her tender hands fell many hundreds of unfortunates from Libby and other Southern prisons. In her hospital service she experienced hardship and privation in every conceivable form, and, while caring for the wounded and dying on the battlefields, she was under fire three times. At her funeral, following the committal of the Episcopal Church, a bugler blew ‘lights out’ above the open grave.”

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October 20: John Stephens Graham (1976) & Elizabeth Breckinridge Graham (2005)

John S. Graham (d. October 20, 1976) and Elizabeth B. Graham (d. October 25, 2005) lived the majority of their married life in suburban Maryland with their four daughters. When it came time to choose a church home, the Grahams made the decision to bypass several nearby churches and attend Epiphany in downtown Washington where their children would be exposed to a wider variety of people. John Graham, a native of Reading, Massachusetts, grew up in North Carolina, attending the University of North Carolina and the University of Virginia Law School. After leaving the Winston Salem firm of Vaughan and Graham to serve as an officer in the Naval Reserve during World War II, Graham became assistant to the under secretary of the Treasury. In 1948, President Truman appointed him assistant secretary of the Treasury. In 1957, President Eisenhower named him a commissioner of the Atomic Energy Commission and a delegate to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Elizabeth B. Graham was born in Monterey, Pennsylvania and grew up in the Washington, D.C. area. Her father was the assistant secretary of War under President Woodrow Wilson. Elizabeth later compiled a journal of recollections of her childhood in Washington in the early 1900s. Her first ride in an airplane was with her father’s friend Charles Lindbergh when they flew over Washington in 1927. Her mother was lost at sea off the coast of Iceland in 1941 when a ship she was on was torpedoed by a Nazi submarine. Elizabeth was a graduate of Vassar College and had a lifelong interest in education. She devoted countless hours to such programs as Reading is Fundamental, which encouraged reading in inner city schools. She was the founder of the Tuesday School, a weekly after-school enrichment program at the Church of the Epiphany for fourth graders from a local school. Following their deaths, the funerals of John and Elizabeth Graham were held at Epiphany.

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October 19: Eleanor Augusta Norcross (1923)

Eleanor Norcross was an artist, collector, and museum founder. She was born in 1854 in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Her father, Amasa Norcross, was a lawyer, became a member of the Massachusetts legislature, mayor of Fitchburg, and eventually a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Her mother, Susan Augusta Norcross, was a schoolteacher and known for her work with the Ladies’ Soldiers’ Aid Society. Both parents instilled in Eleanor a commitment to her community that she honored her entire life. Her young brother Nelson died of scarlet fever during the Civil War, and her mother died of consumption a few years later. These sad deaths left Eleanor and her father as a small family that remained close throughout their lives. Norcross attended the Massachusetts Normal Arts School in Boston to become an art teacher. She obtained her teaching certificate and began to teach drawing in Fitchburg. When her father was elected to the House of Representatives, Norcross accompanied him to Washington, D.C., where she acted as his hostess.

While in Washington, the Norcrosses became associated with the Church of the Epiphany. A year after their arrival, Eleanor was baptized at the church. Three days later, she was confirmed there. At the age of 24, Eleanor moved to New York City to attend classes at the Art Students’ League. Her teacher, noted American Impressionist painter William Merritt Chase, was so impressed with her talent that he urged Eleanor to continue her studies in Paris – the art capital of the Western World in the late 1800’s. While in Paris, Eleanor’s skills and reputation as a painter grew. Her paintings were exhibited in Paris, New York City, Boston, and Chicago. Eleanor collected textiles, dishes, and furniture while living aboard, with the dream of creating an art center in Fitchburg. Although she did not live to see her dream of opening an art center fulfilled, her bequest of her collections and funds made it possible to open the Fitchburg Art Center in 1929 – “for the joy and inspiration of art.” In 1951 The Fitchburg Art Center became the Fitchburg Art Museum, where Eleanor Norcross’ legacy lives on.

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