On May 23, 1865, the Army of the Potomac celebrated the end of the Civil War by parading down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. Only weeks before, mourners watched Abraham Lincoln’s funeral cortege travel the same thoroughfare. With many buildings still dressed in black crepe, this joyous procession could not help but remind spectators of that unhappy occasion.
When Johnny comes Marching Home Again, Hurrah, hurrah!
We’ll give him a hearty welcome then, Hurrah, hurrah!
The men will cheer, the boys will shout, The ladies, they will all turn out,
And we’ll all feel gay, When Johnny comes marching home
Laid out by Pierre L’Enfant, Pennsylvania Avenue was one of the earliest streets constructed in the federal city. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson considered the avenue an important feature of the new capital. After inspecting L’Enfant’s plan, President Washington referred to the thoroughfare as a “Grand Avenue.” Jefferson concurred, and while the “grand avenue” was little more than a wide dirt road, he planted it with rows of fast growing Lombardy poplars.
Although Pennsylvania Avenue extends seven miles, the expanse between the White House and the Capitol constitutes the ceremonial heart of the nation. Washington called this stretch “most magnificent & most convenient” and it has served the country well. Ever since an impromptu procession formed around Jefferson’s second inauguration, each United States president has paraded down the Avenue after taking the oath of office. From William Henry Harrison to John F. Kennedy the funeral corteges of the seven presidents who died in office followed this route.
Not just the scene of official functions, Pennsylvania Avenue is the traditional parade and protest route of ordinary citizens. During the depression of the 1890s, for example, Jacob Coxey marched 500 supporters down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol to demand Federal aid for the unemployed. Similarly, on the eve of Woodrow Wilson’s 1913 inauguration, Alice Paul masterminded a parade highlighting the woman suffrage movement. In July 1932, a contingent of the Bonus Expeditionary Force carried flags down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House where they planned to form picket lines. Pennsylvania Avenue also has served as a background for more lighthearted celebrations, including a series of day and nighttime Shriner’s parades in the 1920s and 1930s.