Old Hickory and the eight-sided secrets of Washington

Reading my most recent presidential biography, a book about Andrew Jackson, I came across a reference to The Octagon House in Washington, D.C.

I stayed for two weeks in Washington in April, training for my part-time government job. On a Saturday I went sight-seeing and remembered passing by The Octagon House while walking from the Vietnam wall to the White House. I thought it was funny that it was so named because when I was a kid, anytime my parents mentioned the Pentagon I would ask them if there was the Octagon. You had to be there I suppose.

I think I read a marker telling about the house and I know I took some pictures but they are on my now crapped-out computer thus I will have to retrieve them later. The image above is courtesy of the U.S. Government.

The passage that I read in the Burke Davis “Old Hickory: A Life of Andrew Jackson” mentioned that President Jim and First Lady Dolly a.k.a. the Madisons, had lived in The Octagon House while the White House was renovated after the Brits torched it in the War of 1812.

Doing a little reading about the house today, I was astonished to find out that the origins of The Octagon House’s name was a mystery because it was “clearly not eight-sided,” according to the American Architectural Foundation, the organization that now owns the museum-home. Why that shocks me I don’t know. Perhaps it is that the house is called The Octagon and it really doesn’t have eight sides. Imagine how you’d feel if you found out the Pentagon didn’t actually have five sides? It doesn’t of course, but you probably would feel just a little … huh?

So that is where I am today — huh? The Jackson bio was great by the way. I don’t think I had ever known that Jackson was captured as a prisoner of war by the British at the age of 13. He bore a scar across his head that he got from being whacked with a sabre after he refused to shine a British officer’s boots. He also was very much the hot head and probably a functional illiterate if not just illiterate.

That reminds me of this kid I knew in high school. Bill was the boy’s name. A friend of mine remarked to Bill that he was an illiterate. Bill said: “Am not. I do so too got a momma and daddy.” Hell, that kid could have grown up to be president!

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