Celebrating 175

December 31: Henry Lycurgus Howison (1914)

Henry L. Howison was a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy. He was born in Washington, Indiana, on October 10, 1837. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in June 1858. During the next three years he served on the steam frigate Wabash, gunboat Pocohontas and sloop Pawnee. From September 1861 to May 1864, Lieutenant Howison was Executive Officer of three South Atlantic Blockading Squadron ships: the cruiser Augusta and the monitors Nantucket and Catskill, all of which were engaged in wartime operations off Charleston, South Carolina. He then spent nearly a year in the Gulf of Mexico with the cruiser Bienville, acting as her Commanding Officer during some of this time. Following promotion to the rank of Lieutenant Commander in March 1865, Howison was assigned to ordnance inspection duty at the Washington Navy Yard, D.C. It was during this time that Howison married Hannah Johnson Middleton at the Church of the Epiphany. Hannah’s family had been closely connected with the church since at least the 1850s.

In August 1866, Howison returned to sea as Navigator (and later Executive Officer) of the steam sloop Pensacola, flagship on the Pacific Station. During 1868-1872 he served again at the Washington Navy Yard and at the U.S. Naval Academy. In 1873 Commander Howison commanded the gunboat Shawmut. Further duty followed at the Naval Academy and in Washington, D.C., broken by a brief assignment as Commanding Officer of the gunnery training ship Minnesota. Promoted to Captain in 1885, he continued his service in the Nation’s Capital until taking command of USS Vandalia in February 1886. In June 1888 Captain Howison became President of the Steel Inspecting Board and two years later was transferred to the Lighthouse Board. He was Commandant of the Navy Yard at Mare Island, California, and in July 1896 became the first Commanding Officer of the new battleship Oregon, which at that time was the Navy’s most important west coast warship. Commodore Howison was Commandant of the Boston Navy Yard until 1899 and was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1898. Following several months as the commander of the South Atlantic Station, in October 1899 he reached the legally-mandated retirement age of 62 and left active duty. Rear Admiral Henry L. Howison died in Yonkers, New York, on December 31, 1914.

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December 30: John Parsons Wheeler, III (2010)

John Parsons “Jack” Wheeler III was a consultant to the Mitre Corporation, senior planner for Amtrak, official of the Securities and Exchange Commission, chief executive and CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and a presidential aide to the Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush administrations. He also held numerous other positions in the United States military, government, and corporations. Wheeler is best known for his Chairmanship of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. Wheeler was descended from a family of military professionals. He graduated near the top of his West Point Class of 1966, which lost thirty of its members in the Vietnam War. Before deployment to Vietnam, Wheeler graduated with distinction from Harvard Business School. During the downsizing of the military after the war ended, Wheeler resigned from the Army and spent a year attending Virginia Theological Seminary, before deciding to go to Yale Law School.

From 1979 to 1989, Wheeler was chairman of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund which built the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Working with Jan Scruggs and Robert W. Doubek, he supported the controversial Maya Lin design. He raised over eight million dollars in private donations and succeeded in getting Congress to approve a site on the National Mall for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, now known simply as the Wall. In the 1980s, Wheeler was a parishioner of the Church of the Epiphany and a member of the vestry. In 1984, Wheeler had just published a book called Touched with Fire: The Future of the Vietnam Generation. An April 1984 pew sheet advertises the new release with a “Book Celebration” in the Willard Room on a Thursday afternoon. Wheeler’s death at the end of the year in 2010 remains shrouded in mystery. His body turned up in a Wilmington, Delaware landfill. Police ruled his death an assault with “blunt force trauma” without further elaboration. In April 2011, Wheeler’s remains were inurned with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

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December 29: Sumner Cummings Paine (1898)

Sumner Cummings Paine was a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. He was born August 31, 1848 in Maine to Seth and Mary (Cummings) Paine. His father was city treasurer of Bangor, Maine.  Sumner was appointed to the United States Naval Academy from Maine and graduated with the Class of 1869. He reached the grade of lieutenant in October 1896 and his last cruise was executive officer on Admiral Dewey’s flagship Olympia just prior to the Spanish-American War. Paine was taken ill in April 1898 and his health gradually failed until his death came in December. He was 50 years old.

Sumner Paine provides an interesting link between two significant Epiphany families. Two of his classmates at the Naval Academy were John H.C. Coffin, Jr. and Benjamin H. Buckingham. On February 27, 1878, Sumner Paine married John Coffin’s sister, Helen Olcott Coffin, at the Church of the Epiphany. Benjamin Buckingham served as a witness. These two Coffins are children of Louisa Harrison Coffin, the woman who gave the land upon which Epiphany is built. Benjamin Buckingham married Margaret Freeman, one of Epiphany’s great benefactors who gave the church its parish house and tower bells. Sumner and Helen Paine’s only child, Elsie, was baptized at the church in 1879 and buried from there nine years later. Sumner Paine’s funeral was from Epiphany in 1898 before his interment in Oak Hill Cemetery.

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December 28: Andrew Atkinson Humphreys (1883)

Andrew Atkinson Humphreys was a career United States Army officer, civil engineer, and a Union General in the American Civil War. He served in senior positions in the Army of the Potomac, including division command, chief of staff, and corps command, and was Chief Engineer of the U.S. Army. Humphreys was born in Philadelphia to a family prominent in naval architecture. His grandfather, Joshua, designed “Old Ironsides”, the USS Constitution. Andrew graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1831 and spent much of the next thirty years as a civil engineer in the Army. He saw combat in the artillery in the Seminole Wars. Much of his service involved topographical and hydrological surveys of the Mississippi River Delta.

After the outbreak of the Civil War, Humphreys became chief topographical engineer in McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. Initially involved in planning the defenses of Washington, D.C., by March 1862, he shipped out for the Peninsula Campaign. At the Battle of Fredericksburg, his division achieved the farthest advance against fierce Confederate fire; his corps commander, George G. Meade, wrote of Humphreys: “He behaved with distinguished gallantry at Fredericksburg.” For an officer with little combat experience, he inspired his troops with his personal bravery. After the war, Humphreys became a permanent brigadier general and Chief of Engineers, until retirement in 1879, the same year his eldest daughter was buried from Epiphany. Following his death in 1883, Humphreys’ funeral took place in the church. Five years later, his wife’s funeral was there as well. A military base in Northern Virginia was founded during World War I as Camp A. A. Humphreys, named for Andrew A. Humphreys. The post was renamed Fort Belvoir in the 1930s in recognition of the Belvoir plantation that once occupied the site, but the adjacent United States Army Corps of Engineers Humphreys Engineer Center retains part of the original namesake.

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December 27: Jessie Ann Benton Frémont (1902)

Jessie Ann Benton Frémont was an American writer whose literary career arose largely from her writings in connection with her husband’s career and adventures and from the eventful life she led with him. Jessie was the daughter of Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri. She was well educated, mainly privately, and was notably independent and spirited. In 1840 she met Lieutenant John C. Frémont, a young officer in the Topographical Corps, and in 1841, over her father’s strong opposition, they were secretly married. Senator Benton chose to make the best of it and began using his considerable influence to further his son-in-law’s career as an explorer. While her husband was on his first expedition to the Wind River Country, Jessie Frémont served as her father’s hostess and occasionally translated secret Spanish documents for the State Department. She was largely responsible for the literary quality of the 1844 report on his second expedition. It was reprinted as a Senate document in an edition of 10,000 copies and widely sold in a commercial edition as well. In 1849, following her husband’s third expedition, his controversial role in the conquest of California, and his court-martial, she sailed to San Francisco to join him.

Jessie frequently wrote articles, memoirs, travel sketches, and stories that appeared in leading magazines at a time when the west was an exotic frontier. A great supporter of her husband, who was one of the first two Senators of the new U.S. state of California and a Governor of the Territory of Arizona, she was outspoken on political issues and a determined opponent of slavery, which was excluded from the formation of California. By maintaining a high level of political involvement during a period that was extremely unfavorable for women, Jessie Benton Frémont proved herself to be years ahead of her time. The Benton family was connected to Epiphany in its early years. Two of Jessie’s sisters were married at the church (Elizabeth, 1847; Sarah, 1848). All four of John and Jessie Frémont’s children were baptized at Epiphany.

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December 26: Frederick Hiester Brooke (1960)

Frederick H. Brooke (on the right in the accompanying photo) was a respected Colonial revival architect. He was born on October 9, 1876, in Birdsboro, Pennsylvania to Edward and Annie (Clymer) Brooke. He graduated from Yale University and studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. In 1906, he came to Washington, D.C., where he was in practice for forty years. He became a member of the Washington, D.C. chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and was part of the committee that was instrumental in the 1925 legislation that required the registration of architects in Washington. He was also a member of the Executive Committee of the D.C. Allied Architects and served on the Board of Examiners of and Registrars for local architects for ten years. In 1890, after his father’s death, Brooke’s mother married Epiphany rector Randolph McKim. Brooke was the architect for Epiphany’s parish house (1911) and the McKim Memorial Tower (1922).

Brooke designed the Georgian revival buildings of Episcopal High School in Alexandria and was the local architect of the Lutyens-designed ambassador’s residence at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., and the designer of its Georgian revival interiors. He also designed the fourth-floor addition of the Phillips Collection, the District of Columbia World War I Memorial, the remodeling of the Sulgrave Club, and the alterations and additions for the Embassies of Iran and New Zealand and for the Chanceries of the Swedish, Dutch, and New Zealand Embassies. He designed the United States Consulate in Blue Fields, Nicaragua. Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss had been social acquaintances of Frederick H. Brooke. In 1921, they engaged him to undertake renovations and additions to the exterior and interior of their new home, which they later named Dumbarton Oaks. Brooke died on December 24, 1960.

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December 25: Christmas Day Services (1941, 1942)

On December 25, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill attended a church service on Christmas morning. The location was Foundry Methodist and the preacher was Epiphany’s rector, ZeBarney Phillips. (In the accompanying photo, FDR and Churchill are the second and third from the right; Phillips is the third from the left.) The service was sponsored by the Washington Federation of Churches and featured different churches and preachers each year. The service in 1942, also attended by FDR, was held at Epiphany with the pastor of First Congregational as preacher. On the 1941 occasion, Churchill had come to Washington on December 22, just two weeks after Pearl Harbor had made Britain and America war-time allies. Though Churchill was politically right of center and FDR left of center, they were kindred spirits as champions of Anglo-Saxon democracy against the totalitarian Axis powers. They were also both Anglicans from genteel backgrounds and families of political note.

Both men were reared in a similar Anglican faith, accustomed to the Book of Common Prayer, and to the great old Anglo and American hymns. Both appreciated the majesty and symbolism of public worship, especially in wartime, in vivid contrast to the pagan Fascism of their enemies. Various dignitaries joined them for the service, including Army Chief of Staff General George Marshall and Vice President Henry Wallace. Prayers were offered for “those who are dying on land and sea this Christmas morning.” Churchill later remembered of the service: “Certainly there was much to fortify the faith of all who believe in the moral governance of the universe.” Surprisingly, it was the first time Churchill ever heard O Little Town of Bethlehem. Memorably, the hymn declares: “Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

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December 24: First National Christmas Tree Lighting (1923)

At 5:00 p.m. on December 24, 1923, President Calvin Coolidge pressed a button and lit the first “National Christmas Tree.” The tree was a cut, 48-foot balsam fir donated by Middlebury College in Vermont, President Coolidge’s home state. The tree was placed in the center of the Ellipse, just south of the White House. Decorating the tree were 2,500 electric bulbs in red, white, and green, donated by the Electric League of Washington. A searchlight from the nearby Washington Monument was trained on the tree to help illuminate it as well. President Coolidge made no remarks at the lighting. The crowd of about 5,000 people was led in the singing of Christmas carols by the choir of the Church of the Epiphany and the U.S. Marine Band.  Later in the evening, the band played a one-hour holiday concert.

The idea of a decorated, outdoor national Christmas tree originated with Frederick Morris Feiker. Feiker was a highly educated engineer who had been a technical journalist for General Electric. In 1921, Feiker joined the personal staff of U.S. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover as a press aide. The Society for Electrical Development (an electrical industry trade group) was looking for a way to encourage people to purchase more electric Christmas lights and use electricity, and Feiker suggested that President Coolidge personally light the tree as a way of giving Christmas lights prominence. Vermont Republican Senator Frank L. Greene accompanied Feiker to the White House, where they successfully convinced Coolidge to light the tree. A beloved holiday tradition was born. In 2006, the Epiphany Choir returned to the White House, joining other musical ensembles in providing holiday music to White House visitors.

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December 23: Edwin McMasters Stanton (1869)

Edwin Stanton was a lawyer, politician, U.S. Attorney General in 1860-61 and Secretary of War through most of the Civil War and Reconstruction era. Stanton was born in Steubenville, Ohio, the eldest of four children of David and Lucy (Norman) Stanton. He began his political life as a lawyer in Ohio. He moved to Washington in 1856 where he had a large practice before the Supreme Court. He was appointed Attorney General by President Buchanan. Most historians credit Stanton with changing Buchanan’s position away from tolerating secession to denouncing it. When Lincoln was elected president, Stanton agreed to act as a legal adviser to the inefficient Secretary of War Simon Cameron, whom Stanton eventually replaced in January 1862. Stanton was very effective in administering the huge War Department, but devoted considerable energy to persecuting those whom he suspected of traitorous sympathies to the south.

When Epiphany rector Charles Hall, a southerner, received word that he was accused of being a southern sympathizer, Hall marched to the office of Secretary Stanton and assured him of his loyalty to the union. So impressed was Stanton that he became an Epiphany parishioner for the rest of his life. The first record of Stanton in the parish register is the baptism of his five-month old son Jamie in March 1862. The baptism was administered at home due to the illness of the child, who died four months later. Stanton’s last child, Bessie, was baptized in 1864. After the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Edwin Stanton pretty much took control. He organized the response to the assassination, the pursuit of the assassins, and the prosecution of the conspirators. At Lincoln’s death, it was reportedly Stanton who uttered the words, “Now he belongs to the ages.” Stanton died four years after Lincoln. His funeral was at Epiphany. The last known member of the Stanton family to be connected with Epiphany was Stanton’s daughter, Eleanor Stanton Bush, who was buried from the church in 1910.

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December 22: Thomas Dresser White (1965)

Thomas Dresser White was the fourth Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force. White was born in Minnesota in 1901 to the Rev. John C. White, an Episcopal priest, and Katherine (Dresser) White. Upon graduation from West Point in 1920, he was commissioned a second lieutenant of Infantry. After completing infantry school, White was assigned duty at Fort Davis, Panama Canal Zone. In September 1924, he graduated from Advanced Flying School and was assigned duty at Bolling Field, Washington. While stationed in D.C., White married Rebecca Lipscomb at the Church of the Epiphany. His father, who was now Bishop of Springfield (IL) joined rector ZeBarney Phillips in performing the ceremony. In June 1927, White was assigned to study Chinese in Peking,. During his stay in China, he also began to study Russian, a discipline that would serve him well after the United States granted diplomatic recognition to the USSR in 1933. The following year, the first U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union selected the 33 year-old Air Corps first lieutenant and Russian linguist to serve as air attaché and pilot of the embassy airplane.

A series of attaché assignments in Italy, Greece, and Brazil further developed White’s talents, not only as an intelligence officer, but also as an accomplished linguist. During those tours, he became fluent in Chinese, Russian, Italian, Greek, Portuguese, and Spanish. After World War II began, White was recalled to the United States to serve as assistant chief of staff for operations and then chief of staff of the Third Air Force. In January 1944 he was reassigned to Army Air Forces Headquarters in Washington, D.C., where he became assistant chief of staff for intelligence. In that post he helped formulate plans for the D–Day invasion. His request for combat duty was honored in 1944, when he went to the Pacific and took part in the New Guinea, Southern Philippines, and Borneo campaigns. His command of the Seventh Air Force in the Marianas played an important role in bringing about the Japanese surrender. White was promoted to the rank of general in 1953, and designated vice chief of staff and then became chief of staff for the U.S. Air Force July 1, 1957. He retired in 1961.

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