Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Maples

The House we see here is known locally as "Friendship House", after the charity that operated it from 1936 until quite recently. It was originally built as the residence for wealthy merchant William Mayne Duncanson in 1795. George Washington referred to as a "fine house in the woods" when he visited, and it's gone through numerous changes in the two hundred years since then.

Used as hospital for British troops in War of 1812.

Briefly owned by Francis Scott Key.

The brick portion you see was built by Sen. John M. Clayton (Whig from DE) after his purchase in 1856. He added on a ballroom decorated by his neighbor, Constantino Brumidi, the painter of the Capitol interiors.

After the Civil War, the house was purchased by a pioneering woman journalist by the name of Emily Edson Briggs in 1871. She journeyed to Washington, DC when her husband's acquaintance, Abraham Lincoln was elected President. Her fierce defense of the efficiency of the many young ladies who were engaged for the first time in office work led to her career in the press. In addition to being the first women to deliver spot reports via telegraph, she became well known for her weekly columns under the pseudonym "Olivia".

Five months later after moving in, her husband passed away. At about that time, she realized that the master bedroom was also the "abode of a most gentle and benign female ghost". The ghost would wander the house and ground weeping softly. Periodically, the sounds of an unfamiliar instrument would fill the house as well.

Olivia being a formidable, tough female journalist in an era when that was an odity, was not fazed by a mere ghost. She lived quite happily with the ghost for several years until one morning she felt drawn to a spare bedroom. There she was amazed to discover that the pillow had an indentation as if it had been slept in. In the indentation was a single, white pearl. Ever since, the ghost has not been felt at the Maples.

Olivia lived here for several more decades, acquiring a reputation as a leading figure in the city's literary and social figures.

Backstory: In the 1840s, Major A.A. Nicholson and his wife moved into the Maples. Mrs. Nicholson later committed suicide, much to the shock of the Capitol Hill society, because of suspicions that her husband was having an affair with Daniel Carroll's daughter Sallie. Her suspicions were proven right when Nicholson later married Sallie Carroll.

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