Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Smithsonian and the 1850s Columbia Heights resident

No, this is not the new Dan Brown book. The folks at the Smithsonian forwarded me a fascinating story about an old iron coffin discovered during a recent renovation. The coffin held William Taylor White, a student who died in 1852. The museum worked to identify the boy, who was 15 years old and a student at Columbian College, where he was buried. Columbian College is now known as the George Washington University: until the 1870s, the college was located north of Florida Avenue between 14th and 15th Street, which was then called College Hill.

Our neighborhood actually got its name from Columbian College, and there are still a few remnants around, like University Place between 15th and 16th and the various local streets named for colleges: Harvard and Kenyon for example, while Fairmont used to be called Yale and Girard was Princeton -- check out an old map showing that.

The museum tracked down the boy's living relatives, and his remains were recently donated to the Smithsonian. The museum also put together this slideshow about the story:


  1. Amazing post. Great set of pictures.

  2. This is one of the topics that will be covered at a free symposium on DC archaeology at the Museum of American History this Saturday:

    The Archeology of Washington, DC
    A One Day Symposium on the Archeology of our Nation's Capital

    Saturday, February 27, 2010
    Smithsonian Institution
    National Museum of Natural History
    Baird Auditorium
    1pm - 4pm

    Extraordinary Resources in the Nations Capital: The Archaeology of Washington, D.C.
    Dr. Ruth Trocolli, City Archeologist, Washington, DC

    Bold, Rocky, and Picturesque: the Archaeology of Rock Creek Park, a Wooded Refuge in the Nations Capital
    Dr. John Bedell, Senior Archaeologist, The Louis Berger Group, Inc.

    Death, Dogs and Monuments: Excavations at Historic Congressional Cemetery
    Laurie Burgess, Associate Chair, Dept. of Anthropology, NMNH

    Gardens abounding in much Gay and Variagated Foliage: Understanding
    George Washington's Upper Garden
    Dr. Esther White, Director of Archaeology, Mount Vernon

    Lost in Time: The Boy in the Iron Coffin
    Deborah Hull-Walski, Collections Manager, Dept. of Anthropology, NMNH
    Dr. David Hunt, Collections Manager of Physical Anthropology, NMNH

  3. I saw this presentation - it was amazing and very touching. One of the best talks I've gone to in a very long time!


Please don't advertise in the comments, and please enter some kind of name when you comment instead of being anonymous.

If the post is more than 28 days old, your comment must be approved first.