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Exploring Three Stories From the National Arboretum in Northeast D.C.

Get lost in the natural setting of the National Arboretum in Northeast D.C.! From its establishment in 1927 to a fire in 1957, explore three stories inspired by Ghost Dog's recent visit. Discover the history of this underappreciated gem just two miles from the Capitol Building.
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The National Arboretum is an underappreciated gem in the heart of Northeast D.C. About two miles from the Capitol Building, situated on New York Ave., it covers 446 acres and has been in operation since 1927.

If you have never visited, you need to go there this weekend, because you can easily spend hours getting lost and enjoying the natural setting.

That is exactly what Mrs. Ghost, Ghost Dog, and I did this past weekend. Ghost Dog loved running around the old Capitol Columns so much that we collectively decided to dig up three stories to share with the GoDC community. So here you go … inspired by Ghost Dog herself.

Ghost Dog at the old Capitol columns in the National Arboretum (looking for stories)
Ghost Dog at the old Capitol columns in the National Arboretum (looking for stories)

1. Government inaugurates an elaborate experimental park

In 1927, President Coolidge approved the establishment of a national arboretum on Mount Hamilton, close to the Maryland border. Unfortunately for nature lovers and scientists, the approval did not include any appropriation of funding.

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The vision for the arboretum was to create the best and largest garden on the planet, twice as large as what we actually have today. Below is an article from the Baltimore Sun on May 12th, 1929, detailing the birth of our great arboretum.

A great national arboretum in which will be gathered trees and shrubs from all over the world is about to be established by the Federal Government as a laboratory for the scientists who devote their lives to research in tree and plant life.

This unusual garden, which eventually will surpass anything of its kind in the world, will be situated in an 800-acre tract within the District of Columbia between the Bladensburg road, leading to Baltimore, and the Anacostia river. It will be but two miles from the Capitol.

There will be gathered the banyan tree, whose branches droop to the ground and sprout up new trunks until long colonnades are formed on all sides; the upas tree of Java, whose poison, it is said, will kill anyone who sleeps beneath its branches; the mimosa, some of which can be seen around Baltimore, whose leaves close and “go to sleep” at sundown only to reopen again in the morning; and many of her strange trees which scientists of the Department of Agriculture, which will have supervision of the arboretum, plan to set out for experiment and study. As the years go by, and curious species of trees and shrubs develop,e the arboretum will become an attraction for tourists and lovers of beauty.

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The site selected, known as Mount Hamilton, from the largest of the three peaks it contains, consists of 400 acres adjoining another tract of 400 acres already owned by the Government. Negotiations for its purchase are now being made and it is contemplated that actual appropriations will be voted next winter. In the meantime scientists of the Department of Agriculture are planning their tree garden.

Mount Hamilton is said to be particularly suited to such a purpose. Its lands vary from the wood-covered knobs to the marshes of the Anacostia flats, where wild rice grows and birds gather for food. … Since Washington is midway between North and South, they pointed out, it will be more suitable to a general growth of different species than an arboretum situated in either extreme of latitude.

old Capitol columns at the National Arboretum (Library of Congress)
old Capitol columns at the National Arboretum (Library of Congress)

2. New York team wins annual White House police pistol match

This is an interesting article we came across from May 4th, 1958. The annual White House pistol match was held at the National Arboretum, and a team composed of New York police officers took the prize.

New York police teams took the two major trophies yesterday in the Fifth Annual Pistol Match sponsored by the White House Police at the range the National Arboretum.

The Coffelt Memorial Trophy went to New York State Police Team No. 1, with a score of 1195 out of a possible 1200.

Second was the New York Port Authority Police Team, defending champions, who score [sic] 1192. The Maryland State Police Team No. 1, with 1189, was third.

The trophy is named for White House Guard Leslie Coffelt who died Nov. 2, 1950, of wounds suffered when protecting President Truman from two assassins.

The Ford Memorial Trophy was won by the New York City Police Team No. 1, which set a new range record of 1197. Second was the New York State Team No. 1, 1194, and the Baltimore City Police team was third, scoring 1192.

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Edward Campbell of the Baltimore Police won first place in the individual match with a perfect score of 300, including 27 bull’s-eyes. Pennsylvania State Trooper G, Evan was second, scoring 300, with 25 bull’s-eyes and New York Port Security Officer Joe Wraga took third in a play-off, with a base score equal to Evan’s.

I’m pretty sure that shooting range no longer exists.

path in the National Arboretum
path in the National Arboretum

3. Fire to keep warm accidentally burns five acres

Brush fires are something you really only see out west. Rarely are you going to read anything about them on the East Coast, and definitely not in D.C. But, that wasn’t the case in March 1957. The Washington Post had an article about an accidental fire set in the National Arboretum.

Edward Goodman, 43, who told police he set fires for warmth, was arrested yesterday after fire burned about five acres of brush on the National Arboretum, near South Dakota ave. ne. and the Baltimore-Washington pkwy.

Goodman, of no fixed address, was charged with vagrancy and sent to D. C. General Hospital for observation. Firemen were fighting the fire when they noticed Goodman starting another fire nearby, police reported. He was arrested on the scene.

Goodman told the police he recently had been released from the reformatory at Jessups, Md. The fire burned only brush and stumps and endangered no buildings. Two engine companies extinguished the flames in two hours.

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Enjoy daily

Ghosts of DC stories.