Sunday, August 4, 2013

Visiting Mr. Sousa in Washington

Our family vacationed in D.C. this past week, and I was able to check out John Philip Sousa's old neighborhood near the Marine Barracks (most of the info below comes from Paul Bierley, John Philip Sousa: American Phenomenon, Rev. Ed., 2001). Here's what I found on my walking tour:

Sousa was born here at 636 G Street, SE, on November 6, 1854 (the family moved a block down the road in early 1855). 

The plaque found just to the left of the red front door confirms this historical spot.

In 1858 the Sousa family built, and soon after lived in, this home on the southeast corner of 7th and E Streets. It was originally a frame house, with the brick fa├žade added around 1878, when Sousa's father retired. John Philip, who was making decent money by this time, paid for the upgrade so that his parents could stay in their home during their retirement (Bierley, pp. 40-41).

Sousa, who died on March 6, 1932 at the age of 77, is buried in the Congressional Cemetery at 18th and E Streets, SE - a beautiful spot.

A close up of the bench, flanked by lovely flowering trees (Crepe Myrtles, I think), whose pink blossoms are seen in the photos above and below. This bench was not originally part of the burial plot, but was created for a special Sousa memorial planned in 1938 that never quite materialized due to insufficient funding (Bierley, p. 205).

The bench is inscribed as follows: "Sousa, Leader, United States Marine Band, 1880-1892."

Sitting on the bench, the actual burial spot is at your feet. The marker simply says, "John Philip Sousa, Lt. Com. U.S.N.R.F., Nov. 6, 1854, Mar. 6, 1932," and then there are a few measures of music, which are hard to read now, but they show a portion of "The Stars and Stripes Forever," Sousa's most famous march, and the last piece of music he conducted before his death (Bierley, p. 92).

A few blocks from Sousa's birthplace, down at the Marine Barracks, is the only statue of Sousa in Washington. It was unveiled on Nov. 5, 2005, the last day of Sousa’s sesquicentennial (150th) year. Unfortunately, the statue is not accessible to the public, as it sits behind the gates on this restricted military property. At first this fact really bothered me (I tried sweet-talking the armed guard, but no luck!), but then it occurred to me that the best way to honor Sousa in public is to continue playing his music, which happens at least every July 4th - and all around the country!

Here's the best shot I could get of the actual statue, taking the photo through the fence. Is it just me, or does Sousa seem a little stiff in this pose? Perhaps it's a military thing!

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