Celebrating 175

July 13: John Charles Frémont (1890)

John Charles Frémont was an American explorer, politician, and soldier. During the 1840’s Frémont led four expeditions into the American West. His growing taste for wilderness exploration was encouraged by the expansionist enthusiasm of Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton, who became his adviser, sponsor, and, in 1841, father-in-law. Benton’s influence in government enabled Frémont to accomplish within the next few years the mapping of much of the territory between the Mississippi valley and the Pacific Ocean. The press accorded Frémont the nickname, “The Pathfinder.” He was the first presidential candidate of the newly formed anti-slavery Republican Party, but lost the election to James Buchanan. Abraham Lincoln would become the first successful candidate of the party.

In 1840 while in Washington preparing a report on one of his explorations, Lieutenant John C. Frémont met Senator Thomas Hart Benton’s 15-year old daughter, Jessie, while she was studying and living at Georgetown Seminary. The couple became engaged, but her parents objected to a marriage because of her age. Several years later, following his return from another exploring expedition, the couple eloped. In time, Jessie’s parents accepted the marriage and the Frémonts were soon living in the Benton’s Washington home. Jessie’s family was closely associated with Epiphany. Two of her sisters were married at the church and several nieces and nephews were baptized. Despite frequent moves in their early marriage, four of the five Frémont children were baptized at Epiphany, including namesake John Charles Frémont, Jr.

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July 12: Joseph Bell Alexander (1871)

Dr. Joseph Alexander moved from Baltimore to Washington, D.C. and became co-owner with Dr. Charles Brown of the Brown & Alexander undertaking firm, located at 323 D Street. This was the firm chosen to do the embalming of President Abraham Lincoln following his assassination (see accompanying picture). Brown & Alexander had embalmed the president’s son, Willie, when he died three years earlier. For their services for the president, the firm charged $260 – $100 for the actual embalming and $160 for sending embalmers along on the Lincoln funeral train to tend to the body during its long journey home to Springfield, Illinois.

Joseph Bell Alexander must have been a very inventive person. In the early 1860’s, he devised a calculating machine and took out U.S. Patent No. 41898 for it. The machine never went into production, but its technology was used in other calculating devices. Dr. Alexander’s original model is in the Smithsonian today. Alexander took out six patents for improvements of oil-burning lamps, several patents for siphon bottles and bottle-stoppers (actually it was the first American siphon bottle found in patent records), and a patent for an automatic railroad switch. Joseph Bell Alexander and Finnella Maury Little were married at Epiphany in 1864.

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July 11: Katherine “Kate” Willard Boyd (1940)

When Epiphany’s parish house was built in 1911, several families endowed the new meeting rooms. Kate Willard Boyd endowed a room on the first floor in memory of her parents who had both died in recent years. The Willard Room, although vastly reconfigured since 1911, still bears the family name today. Kate Willard was born in Washington, D.C. during the Civil War. Her father, Caleb Clapp Willard, had moved to town from Vermont several decades earlier as he and his brothers tried their hand at running a hotel. As the older brothers ran the hotel that still exists today, Caleb went on to own and operate the Ebbitt Hotel as well as acquiring a good amount of downtown property.

Kate Willard and her younger brother, Walter, were baptized at Epiphany in 1869, followed four years later by their father’s baptism and confirmation. Their mother died and was buried from Epiphany in 1874. Caleb Willard would later marry Lucy Stratton Parker. These are two for whom Epiphany’s Willard Room is a memorial. Kate Willard married John C. Boyd at Epiphany in 1887. Boyd was a surgeon and medical director in the U.S. Navy Medical Corps. He was one of the incorporators of the American Red Cross and one of the founders of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity. The Boyd’s two children, Alice and Walter, were both baptized at Epiphany. In addition to her philanthropy, Kate Willard Boyd was also on the Boards of the Washington Home for Incurables and the Epiphany Church Home.

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July 10: St. John Bull Lawrence Skinner (1872)

In 1853, St. John B.L. Skinner was appointed to a position with the Post Office Department in Washington, D.C. where he remained until his death in 1872. He served under five Presidents (Pierce through Grant) as Chief Clerk and Assistant Postmaster General including time as Acting Postmaster General under Lincoln in 1862 and as First Assistant Postmaster General under Grant 1869 – 1872. Skinner was born in upstate New York, near Plattsburgh. He attended Plattsburgh Academy and was one of 20 teenage boys from the school who in September 1814 formed Aiken’s Volunteers and successfully helped defend the city against the 10,000-strong British army. Skinner was one of the founders and served on the first vestry of Trinity Church, Plattsburgh.

Upon moving to Washington, Skinner quickly became associated with Epiphany. He is listed as a sponsor at the baptisms of five different young children. He served as Junior Warden all during the time of the Civil War and then Senior Warden the last four years of his life. Following his death, his funeral was at Epiphany and the church’s vestry passed the following resolution. “Be it resolved that in the removal by death of our Senior Warden, General St. John B.L. Skinner the Church of the Epiphany has lost an earnest, sound, and faithful churchman, the community a good man and exemplary citizen, and his country one who has long been honored as one of its defenders and supporters.”

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July 9: Frances Bull Fairchild (1925)

Seven-year-old Frances Bull moved to Washington from Detroit in 1853 with her parents. Her mother had remarried after her biological father had died when Frances was young. Her stepfather had been a respected judge and was coming to the nation’s capital as he took a job in the War Department. The family appears to have quickly become associated with Epiphany. Frances’ half brother, Charles, was baptized at the church in 1857. Within the next year, her stepfather and mother were both buried from the church. In 1859, Frances’ older sister, Kate, was married at the church followed by Frances’ marriage to Lucius Fairchild five years later.

Lucius Fairchild was in the military when he married Frances Bull. He would go on to become Governor of Wisconsin for three terms. Frances Fairchild proved to be a popular first lady for the Badger State. Her charm, tact, and beauty gathered for her and her husband many friends. Mrs. Fairchild also proved to be able to act in her husband’s absence. In 1871 following the Great Chicago Fire, her husband and many state officials had gone to that city to render aid. Meanwhile a telegram to Governor Fairchild arrived in Madison telling of a fire in upstate Wisconsin. With her husband away, Mrs. Fairchild sprang into action. She commandeered a boxcar loaded with supplies destined for Chicago and rerouted it to the Wisconsin site. Mrs. Fairchild then issued a public appeal for contributions of money, clothing, bedding, and supplies with the result that a second boxcar was dispatched.

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July 8: John William French+ (1871)

In the wall behind Epiphany’s south (back) balcony, there is a stained glass window depicting the Epiphany, the event for which the parish is named. Installed as part of the 1874 renovation of the church, the window was originally placed at the north end in a newly expanded chancel. When that same chancel was again expanded in 1890, the window was moved to its current location. Across the bottom of the window are the words, “In Memory of Rev. J.W. French D.D., First Rector of this Parish.” The fact that the window was a gift of the parish almost 15 years after the Rev. Mr. French had left says a great deal about the admiration and affection the parish had for its founding rector.

After serving parishes in Maine and Pennsylvania, John French came to Washington in the summer of 1841 to serve as chaplain to the U.S. House of Representatives. Shortly thereafter, a diocesan Domestic Committee on Church Missions hired French as a city missionary. It was in this role that he started the prayer meetings that led to the founding of the Epiphany congregation on January 6, 1842. French guided the congregation through the next 14 years. During that time, five of his children were baptized and one was buried. In 1856, parishioner and Secretary of War Jefferson Davis appointed French as Chaplain and Professor of Geography, History and Ethics at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. It was here that French would spend the rest of his life. He and his wife are buried in the Post Cemetery.

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July 7: First Worship Service in Church (1844)

Almost a year after the laying of Epiphany’s cornerstone, the building was ready for use. Physically, it was a plain rectangular structure lacking transepts or chancel, with red brick and mortar walls 18 inches thick, and with a low-gabled slate-covered roof. Two small granite towers ornamented the corners of the façade, and in the middle a large window opened into the choir gallery. A narrow vestibule separated the front from the church’s interior, which had three aisles and seated about 500 people in comfort. On a sanctuary platform were a simple altar, pulpit, and reading desk. The Ladies Association provided some carpeting. The side windows had brown cloth curtains to control the sunlight through their rectangular lower part, and colored paper over their Gothic part above.

With the new building ready for use, Epiphany’s vestry on July 5, 1844 resolved unanimously to hold the first services in it two days later on July 7. The formal beginning of the new building came a week later when Bishop Whittingham preached and administered communion to a large congregation that filled the church to overflowing. The bishop spoke of the church building as a “spacious and neat edifice, the completion of which in so short a period…and with a very trifling proportion of indebtedness remaining to be discharged, was a blessing that filled the hearts of all present with deep thankfulness.”

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July 6: Marcia Frances Trouland Cramer (1996)

The Old Testament Book of Exodus tells the story of the struggling Israelites who had no food as they were wandering in the desert after leaving Egypt. Then God sent manna from heaven to sustain them. And so it was in 1996 with Epiphany, a struggling downtown parish striving to live out its gospel mandate to welcome the stranger and feed the poor, in a building with a leaking roof. Then came news from the Riggs Bank Trust Department that the church was the recipient of Marcia Cramer’s entire estate, valued at close to a half million dollars. Within a year, Epiphany had a new slate roof. At the time of her death, Mrs. Cramer was an unknown person to the parish, although there is evidence she may have had connections much earlier.

A native Washingtonian, Marcia Cramer was born in 1898. She was baptized and confirmed at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Church when she was 20 years old. She had a 43-year career as a fiscal auditor with the General Accounting Office, retiring in 1962. When Marcia Cramer died in 1996 at age 98, she was twice widowed, and was without descendants and had no immediate family. In addition to her estate, Epiphany was the recipient of her personal papers. There were detailed notes on a variety of subjects. Among these personal effects were handwritten prayers (see accompanying photo) that identify her as a person of faith and might help explain why she would be interested in leaving her estate to a church.

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July 5: Charlotte Margaret Sioussa Fisher (1869)

Charlotte Margaret Sioussa was the eighth child of Jean Pierre Sioussa and his second wife, Julia. The charming Jean Pierre was born in Paris and after his immigration to America was known as “French John.” Due to his knowledge of French customs, Sioussa was particularly valuable at official functions. He worked for the British Minister before being hired as the first doorkeeper at the White House by President Jefferson. First Lady Dolley Madison, known for her frequent entertaining, hired Sioussa as her master of ceremonies. When the British ravaged Washington during the War of 1812, it was Sioussa who assisted Dolley in saving the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington and evacuating the White House.

In 1845, Charlotte Sioussa married Thomas Fisher, who became a successful Washington businessman. The Fishers had twelve children, five of whom lived to maturity. The family first shows up in Epiphany’s records in 1857 with the baptism of their fifth child, Alice. The burial of Alice is recorded four days later. Nine months later, Charlotte Fisher was confirmed at Epiphany by Bishop Whittingham. A series of baptisms and burials follows until Charlotte’s burial in 1869. She was 42 years old. In the years following her death, three of Charlotte’s children were married at Epiphany. Following Thomas Fisher’s death, the Fisher children memorialized their parents with the gift of a stained glass window. Dedicated in 1890, the window is on the west side of the nave and depicts Christ as the Good Shepherd and the True Light.

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July 4: William Crawford Gorgas (1920)

On this day marking the birth of our nation, it is appropriate to remember one of America’s great citizens and a man whom many have called one of Epiphany’s most distinguished parishioners. William Crawford Gorgas was the 22nd Surgeon General of the Army and is best known for his work in abating the transmission of yellow fever and malaria by controlling the mosquitoes that carry them. His work in bringing the diseases under control in Panama allowed the construction of the Panama Canal and brought Gorgas recognition as a national hero. Prior to his death on July 4, Gorgas lay dying at the Queen Alexandra Military Hospital in London. King George V visited him and bestowed an honorary knighthood (KCMG).  There was a funeral service in St. Paul’s Cathedral prior to his remains being returned to the USA. Gorgas lay in honor for four days at Epiphany before his funeral there and eventual burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

Epiphany’s vestry remembered Gorgas with these words. “Leaving to others the due recognition of the notable and beneficent achievements of our late associate and friend General William C. Gorgas, the Wardens and Vestrymen of Epiphany Church desire to record their testimony to his worth as a Christian gentleman, an exemplar of a life in true consonance with the high ideals enjoined by that Lord and Master he devoutly followed. A man to whom great talent had been entrusted, he made his responsibility for its unselfish use a matter of conscience, never sparing himself in any particular when the call for service to the needs of his fellow men in any quarter of the earth came. By precept and example he urged upon all who came within the sphere of his influence the duty and joy of unreserved and unflagging faithfulness and zeal towards all recognized duties.”

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