During a weekend trip to Washington, D.C., I made a long-desired pilgrimage to the site of Henry Adams' home.
The Hay-Adams Hotel now stands at the Lafayette Square corner where Adams lived next to John Hay in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Adams, the great-grandson of President John Adams and grandson of President and U.S. Rep. John Quincy Adams, was best known during his lifetime as the author of the nine-volume "The History of the United States of America During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison."
Hay's long career of governmental service included terms as President Lincoln's secretary and secretary of state under presidents McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.
We ate lunch at the Hay-Adams Hotel, at 16th and H streets, across Lafayette Square from the White House. The adjoining houses of Hay and Adams were demolished in 1927 for the hotel's construction.
The hotel's restaurant was packed with people in suits and dresses, who gave the air of conducting serious business. Several distinguished looking gentlemen upon leaving exchanged jokes with the middle-aged waiters, promising with handshakes to return soon. Our waiter showed us a photo of him and Henry Kissinger.
Overhearing the German-flavored conversation of well-dressed young people at an adjoining table, I studied a photo on the wall of Hay and Adams' homes.
Ever since I read Adams' autobiography "The Education of Henry Adams" as a young man, I've been fascinated with Adams' life. Adams' "Mount St. Michel and Chartres," a study of the medieval veneration of the Virgin Mary and what Adams saw as the 20th century's tragic turn to an obsessive belief in science, is also one of my favorite books.
Adams in "The Education of Henry Adams" laments that his classical education at Harvard ill-prepared him for the 20th century and its technological changes, which he called the rise of "the dynamo." He also felt that his life of writing and a political insider was superfluous compared with his great-grandfather and grandfather's service to the nation.
Unmentioned by Adams in his autobiography was the death of his wife, Marian "Clover" Adams, an aspiring photographer who committed suicide in 1885. She battled depression and felt overshadowed by Adams' eminence.
One day, I'll travel to Rock Creek Cemetery to stand at her grave and contemplate August St. Gaudens' eerie monument to her. Adams, who lived until 1918, commissioned the sculpture, which shows a bereaved woman wearing a shroud.
Adams' old Boston heritage connects with another famous St. Gaudens statue, the monument at Boston's Public Gardens to Robert Gould Shaw, who led the black 54th Massachusetts Regiment during the Civil War. Shaw and many of his troops were killed in an attack on Fort Wagner, S.C. on July 18, 1963.
Unlike Shaw and one of his brothers, Adams didn't fight in the Civil War, instead serving as secretary to his father, Charles, the U.S. ambassador to Britain, whose main task was keeping the British from allying with the Confederacy.
In "The Education of Henry Adams," Adams gives an insightful account of the Civil War, observed from London and his service to his father.
The historic corner where Adams lived and carried out a busy social life hosting leading writers, scientists and politicians hasn't changed that much during the years.
Looking out the restaurant window at historic St. John's Church, Lafayette Square and the White House, I marveled that Henry must have enjoyed a similar view.