Celebrating 175

January 24: Richard Hoffman Coolidge (1866)

After study in New York City, Richard Coolidge passed the army board examination with great credit and was commissioned Assistant Surgeon, U.S. Army. He was 21 years old. Dr. Coolidge saw service in the Mexican War. While attached to the Surgeon General’s Office in Washington, he was called upon to care for dying president Zachary Taylor. During the Civil War, Coolidge rendered valuable service on the battlefields of Bull Run and Gettysburg.


A religious journal of the day recorded reaction to Dr. Coolidge’s death in 1866 like this. “His brethren will remember him as one of the most accomplished in the large exercises of their noble vocation. They will always associate with his name what is unselfish, kind-hearted, and high-toned in principle. But it was as a humble servant of Jesus Christ that his life shone with richest luster. With him religion was not a sentiment, but a life.” The register of the Church of the Epiphany records the burial of Richard H. Coolidge, M.D., age 45, at Washington Parish [Congressional] Cemetery. His tombstone reads, “Asleep in Jesus.”

< Previous     Next >

January 23: First Worship Service of the New Congregation (1842)

The initial services of the “Free Protestant Episcopal Mission Church,” as Epiphany was then called, were held on the morning and afternoon of Sunday, January 23, 1842 in Apollo Hall. This two-story building, located on the south side of E Street four doors west of 13th, could seat 300 or more people. When used for church purposes the minister preached from a desk, with a movable screen nearby, behind which he put on his robe. The principal secular uses of the hall were for debating and temperance society meetings, although occasionally it was used for less sedate attractions. In the new church the seats were free.


Within two weeks the rector could report to the Bishop of Maryland that both Sunday services and those on weekdays were well attended. On weekdays, there was a regular service on Tuesday and daily services during Lent. A choir of mixed voices led the singing, although with the aid of a tuning fork rather than a musical instrument. Six weeks after the first service, the bishop would make his first visit to the new congregation.

< Previous     Next >

January 22: Joseph Horace Eaton (1896)

Several years after graduating from West Point in 1835, Joseph Horace Eaton served as an aide to General Zachary Taylor during the Mexican-American War and was twice promoted and cited for gallantry. Following the Mexican War, Eaton was stationed on the frontier where he painted a series of landscapes in New Mexico in the 1850’s. These paintings are highly sought after by art collectors and museums today. At the onset of the Civil War, Eaton served for a time on the staff of Major General John C. Frémont in Missouri and later as Paymaster in Kansas and Missouri.


In May 1863, Eaton was stationed in Washington as assistant to the Paymaster General and was promoted to brevet Brigadier General for faithful and meritorious service. Eaton soon became associated with Epiphany. Within a year his fourth child, Louisa, had been born and was baptized at Epiphany. Three years after the war was over, Eaton himself was baptized at Epiphany. The witnesses listed in the register are two fellow parishioners and West Pointers, General George C. Thomas, Class of 1836 and General William Maynadier, Class of 1827. “The Long Gray Line” is strong.

< Previous     Next >

January 21: Margaret Cassatt Coleman Freeman (1894)

Thomas Sully (American, 1783 – 1872 ), The Coleman Sisters, 1844, oil on canvas, Gift of William C. Freeman

Margaret Cassatt Coleman Freeman had a goodly heritage. On her mother’s side (the Cassatts), she was a cousin of artist Mary Cassatt. On her father’s side, she was a descendant of Robert Coleman, the iron industry baron and Pennsylvania’s first millionaire. The accompanying image of The Coleman Sisters by Thomas Sully, painted in 1844, depicts Margaret and two of her other unmarried sisters. Two years later, Margaret married William Freeman, a West Point graduate, who served on the staff of General Winfield Scott. Over time, Margaret and her siblings took an active interest in the operation of several Cornwall, Pennsylvania iron furnaces, especially profitable during the Civil War with the making of munitions.


In 1853, Margaret’s sister Sarah purchased a home at 1525 H St, NW, Washington [today’s Parish House for St. John’s Church] and subsequently deeded half interest in the property to Margaret and her husband. The families would spend the winter months in DC. Early fall and late spring, they would return to their home in Cornwall, Pennsylvania and then spend the summer at a home in Bar Harbor, Maine. Margaret, her sister Sarah, and her two daughters Margaret and Isabel, were great friends of Epiphany, providing significant financial support over a 75-year period. Margaret Freeman’s funeral took place from Epiphany. She was later buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.

< Previous     Next >

January 20: Inaugural Bells (1925)

In Observance of Inauguration Day

The bells in Epiphany’s tower were installed in 1922 as a memorial to seventh rector, Randolph McKim. The number of bells (15) was intentional to accommodate the wide range of the “Star Spangled Banner.” Within a year of their installation, the bells were used to mark a presidential transition. Halfway through his first term in office, President Warren G. Harding died while on a trip to the west coast. Epiphany’s bells tolled for the president’s death. Vice President Calvin Coolidge was quietly sworn in by his father, a justice of the peace, at their Vermont homestead.
Epiphany’s bells began their inaugural history when they were rung for the inauguration of Calvin Coolidge’s first full term on March 4, 1925. (Beginning in 1933, the Twentieth Amendment changed the inauguration date to January 20.) Coolidge (depicted here with his wife, Grace) was sworn in at the U.S. Capitol by Chief Justice (and former president) William Howard Taft. This was the first time a former U.S. president administered the oath of office. This was the first time that the ceremony was broadcast nationally on radio. This was the first time that Epiphany’s bells rang to mark the beginning of a president’s term of office. For the 23 inaugurations since, Epiphany’s bells have rung to mark this pivotal moment in American democracy.


< Previous     Next >

January 19: Charles Henry Tompkins (1915)

“The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to First Lieutenant (Cavalry) Charles Henry Tompkins, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism on 1 June 1861…” With this citation, Tompkins became the first Union army officer to receive the Medal of Honor for action during the Civil War.  Tompkins was the son of a career Army officer and the grand nephew of Vice President Daniel D. Tompkins. He received an appointment to West Point, but did not graduate. Just before the outbreak of the Civil War, Tompkins enlisted and served with honor in various locations around the country, receiving brevets up to brigadier general.

During the war, Tompkins married Augusta Hobbie of New York. The wedding took place at the bride’s home church, but appears in Epiphany’s register indicating Epiphany’s rector was part of the ceremony. The couple’s first three children (all sons) were baptized at Epiphany with two of them following in their father’s footsteps and pursuing a military career. Tompkins himself was confirmed at Epiphany just two days before the baptism of his first child. Tompkins’ second son, and namesake, died in July 1867, 11 months old.  His funeral was at Epiphany before his interment in the family plot at Oak Hill Cemetery.

< Previous     Next >

January 18: +William Paret (1911)

When the Rev. William Paret visited Washington in 1876 to discuss a possible call from what he considered to be “one of the most important parishes in the land,” he asked the assembled vestrymen what the Church of the Epiphany was doing for its poor. Their answer was, “they had no poor, every pew was let.” In that case, Paret responded, he could not come, since he believed “a church without any poor was too spiritually poor to be useful.”  After reflection by the vestry and assurances of change, Paret agreed to become Epiphany’s fifth rector. Over the next nine years, change did occur. Epiphany’s doors were opened during the week. More services were free. A chapel was opened in SW Washington to serve the poorer part of the parish. Numerous baptisms of destitute children were performed at Columbia and Freedman’s Hospital. A newsletter was started to keep the parish informed of activities.


In 1884, Paret was unexpectedly elected bishop of Maryland. His four-hour consecration service took place at Epiphany. During his episcopate, Paret returned often. On several occasions he was at Epiphany to baptize a new grandchild and most notably in 1895 to preside over the Maryland Diocesan Convention that voted to create the new Diocese of Washington. Towards the end of his life, the good bishop was seeking a place for his family to be buried. Remembering his fondness for Epiphany, Paret purchased some cemetery lots from the vestry and today Bishop William Paret and members of his family rest under the oaks in the Epiphany plot at Rock Creek Cemetery.

< Previous    Next >

January 17: Clyde Bruce Aitchison (1962)

Clyde Aitchison was born in Iowa, the son of a Baptist minister. After graduating from college, he became a newspaper reporter and eventually studied law and earned an M.A. at the University of Oregon. He got involved with the newly created Oregon Railroad Commission and was appointed its chair at age 32. Through this connection, he moved to Washington to advise the government on railroad issues. After earning his Ph.D. at American University, President Wilson appointed Aitchison to the Interstate Commerce Commission, where he would serve for the next 35 years under six presidents. He is depicted with President Truman in the accompanying photograph.

Aitchison was also an avid amateur musician. While at the ICC, he organized a 40-member employee chorus that performed concerts in Washington, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. Aitchison became associated with Epiphany at least as early as 1944, the date his first wife’s burial appears in parish records. Aitchison’s daughter Beatrice became Epiphany’s first female vestry member in 1959. Aitchison’s own burial took place from Epiphany in 1962. Aitchison is memorialized at the church in one of the interior etched glass windows. The window depicts two scenes of the Old Testament figure David – governing for the glory of the Lord and singing of God’s grace; themes very significant in Aitchison’s life as well.

< Previous     Next >

January 16: Martin Luther King, Jr. Service (2010)

In remembrance of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Almighty God, by the hand of Moses your servant you led your people out of slavery, and made them free at last: Grant that your Church, following the example of your prophet Martin Luther King, may resist oppression in the name of your love, and may secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

With this collect, Epiphany’s Welcome Tableministry began aspecial worship service celebrating the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. The Welcome Table is a multi-faceted Sunday morning offering at Epiphany that ministers to a diverse congregation thatincludes many homeless individuals. For this commemoration, a large picture of Dr. King was placed on a tripod at the front of the church. The service opened with an audio recording of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Hymns included “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” “Blessed Martin, Pastor, Prophet,” and “We Shall Overcome,“ and special music, “If I Can Help Somebody” and “Precious Lord.” There was a special Litany of Commemoration of Martin Luther King. The liturgy concluded with a service award presented to individuals who had been especially helpful in the Welcome Table ministry.

< Previous   Next >

January 15: Gilbert Rodman (1862)

Gilbert Rodman was already a lawyer when he relocated to Washington from his native Pennsylvania in 1829. He had received an appointment as a clerk in the Treasury Department from the new Secretary of the Treasury, Samuel Ingham, a fellow Pennsylvanian. Rodman quickly rose through the ranks of the department to become chief clerk, or primary assistant to the Secretary, serving until his death. Rodman occasionally acted as Solicitor of the Treasury and Secretary of the Treasury during the absences of the primary office holders.

Gilbert Rodman was associated with Epiphany from its beginning, serving faithfully as its treasurer from 1842 until his death twenty years later. In 1858 Rodman was baptized and confirmed at Epiphany. When Gilbert Rodman died in 1862, Epiphany’s vestry paid tribute to “his blameless integrity, the purity of his life, and the good nature and affability which won him affectionate respect of old and young. He had a tear for pity and a hand open as day to melting charity.”

< Previous                                                                                                                                                          Next >