LITERARY ORGANIZATIONS ISSUE
The Washington Friends of Walt Whitman
by Martin G. Murray
The Washington Friends of Walt Whitman
is a group of enthusiasts who have been celebrating Walt
Whitman’s life in DC through tours, lectures, and
concerts since 1988. It started with a modest walk I led on Whitman’s
birthday (May 31) of sites associated with the poet: the Treasury Building
where he worked for the Attorney General’s Office, Ford’s
Theater where Whitman’s beloved President Lincoln was assassinated,
and the Old Patent Office Building (now the National Portrait Gallery)
which housed a Civil War-era hospital that Whitman frequently visited
to comfort the wounded. The group was “created” as a temporary
convenience to lend an air of legitimacy to the tour’s announcement
in local media calendars (the Washington Blade and City
Paper). But the participants in the tour enjoyed themselves so
much that they insisted the Washington Friends must continue, and so
Martin G. Murray leads a Downtown DC Whitman Walking Tour for Cultural Tourism DC's annual
"WalkingTown DC" event, 2009. Photo taken inside the Smithsonian Institution, National Portrait Gallery.
Our founding members included Morgan McDonald and his
partner Peter Scott, Civil War buff Craig Howell,
local historian Jerri Linder (now deceased), and myself.
Over the years, our membership has ebbed and flowed but the stalwarts
include the above, as well as Woody Smith, Neil
Richardson and Karen Loeschner, Robert
Jones and Donna Jones, Rosemary
Winslow, Patricia Gray, Richard Anderson and his partner Bill Hopkins,
the late Steve Carson, Saundra
Rose Maley, Kim Roberts, David Brundage, David
McAleavey, Richard Sharpe, Alice
Birney, Barbara Bair, Richard Claude, E.T. Ballard, Barret Brick, Dan
Vera, Michael Gushue, Ryan Shephard, Kathleen O’Reilly, Ed Folsom, Ken Price, Larry
Plumlee, Grace Cavalieri, Richard McCann, and Vinod
Busjeet and Nessa Busjeet.
Over the years, Craig Howell has led a number of interesting
battle site tours, including Fredericksburg, where Whitman began his
Civil War ministry to the wounded by visiting his brother George and
fellow soldiers of the 51st NY Infantry at the Lacy House hospital.
Other battleground visits were made to Antietam (where George and Whitman’s
Rebel buddy Pete Doyle fought against one another) and Culpeper (where
Whitman helped the Army Paymaster distribute pay to the troops). Steve
Carson helped us honor the memories of soldiers Whitman befriended,
with visits to Arlington (final resting place for Lewy Brown and Oscar
Cunningham), and Congressional Cemetery (soldier-friend John Mahay and
Whitman’s lover Pete Doyle are buried there). Dan
Vera also led an observance on the 100th anniversary of
Doyle's death at his gravesite.
On other occasions, the group has attended musical concerts featuring
settings of Whitman’s work. Some memorable performances included
Thomas Hampson at the Library of Congress, the Cathedral Choral Society’s
presentation of Paul Hindemith’s When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard
Bloom’d and the Choral Arts Society’s rendition of
R. Vaughan Williams’s A Sea Symphony. Interspersed have
been lectures and book-signings by leading Whitman scholars Kenneth
Price (To Walt Whitman, America), Jerome Loving (Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself), Michael Robertson (Worshiping Walt: The Whitman Disciples), and Woody
Smith, David Kuebrich, Alice Birney, Neil Richardson, Rosemary
Winslow and Martin Murray (contributors
to The Walt Whitman Encyclopedia).
In 2005, the Washington Friends of Walt Whitman sponsored a city-wide
celebration of the 150th anniversary of the landmark first edition of Leaves of Grass. Chaired by Kim
Roberts, and presented in partnership with twenty local
arts and culture organizations, the sesquicentennial saw poetry readings
by Mark Doty and Anne Waldman at the
Folger Shakespeare Library, a meditation inspired by Whitman’s
poetry and journals guided by Neil Richardson at the
Friends’ Meeting House, readings of “O Captain, My Captain”
by park rangers at Ford’s Theater, a published walking tour brochure
by Rainbow History Project, a marathon reading of the first edition
of Leaves of Grass at the George Washington University, and
several discrete afternoons and evenings devoted to poets Mark
DeFoe, Grace Cavalieri, Sarah Browning, Hilary
Tham, David Bergman, Myra Sklarew, Rosemary
Winslow, David Bottoms, Patricia
Gray, Saundra Rose Maley, Judith McCombs, Kim
Roberts, Richard Sharp, David McAleavey,
Clarinda Harriss, Linda
Joy Burke, and Robert L.
Giron. The celebration culminated with the passage by the
DC City Council of the "Walt Whitman Way Designation Act of 2005," Bill 16-169, giving an honorary designation to F Street NW between 7th
and 8th Streets, facing the National Portrait Gallery.
In 2008, the Washington Friends celebrated its own 20th anniversary
that featured a dramatic reading of selections from “Song of Myself” by Annie Houston of the Washington Shakespeare Company
at the home of Vinod and Nessa Busjeet.
And this year, we will mark the sesquicentennial of Walt Whitman’s
third edition of Leaves of Grass, which introduced the world
to the “Calamus” and “Children of Adam” poems
exploring same- and opposite-gender sexuality, respectively. On May
31, the Friends will pay tribute to Charles Eldridge,
the publisher of this remarkable edition, with a gravesite visit at
Rock Creek Church Cemetery.
Thanks to the efforts of Dan Vera,
the Washington Friends now live in cyberspace as the Yahoo Group “Cyberwalt.” All Whitman lovers are cordially invited to join!
Joy! Joy! in freedom, worship,
love! Joy in the ecstasy of life!
Enough to merely be! Enough to breathe!
Joy! Joy! all over Joy!
— Walt Whitman, "The Mystic Trumpeter"
Washington Friends of Walt Whitman web site
(and the "CyberWalt" list serve)
Issue of Beltway Poetry Quarterly was published in Winter
2004, co-edited by Kim Roberts
and Saundra Rose Maley, co-sponsored
by the Washington Friends of Walt Whitman.
with the Wounded: Walt Whitman and Washington's Civil War Hospitals"
by Martin G. Murray
the Great: A Biography of Peter Doyle" by Martin G. Murray
The Rainbow History Walt
Whitman Walking Tour (pdf) by Martin G. Murray and Kim Roberts
Celebrates Whitman: 150 Years of Leaves of Grass"
festival web site
Martin G. Murray is
is an independent researcher and founder of the Washington Friends of
Walt Whitman. He has written and lectured extensively on Whitman for
both academic and nonacademic audiences. His essays have been published
in A Companion to Walt Whitman (Blackwell Publishing), The
Walt Whitman Encyclopedia (Garland Publishers), Walt Whitman
Quarterly Review (University of Iowa Press), the Yale University
Library Gazette, and Washington History (The Historical
Society of Washington DC), as well as on The Classroom Electric and
the Walt Whitman Electronic Archive websites. His contributions include
several pieces of uncollected Whitman prose journalism, biographical
annotations of soliders appearing in Whitman's Specimen Days,
and a biography of Whitman's companion Peter Doyle. An economist by
profession, Murray has a graduate degree from The George Washington
University, and an undergraduate degree from Rutgers College. He is
employed by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, a federal regulatory
in Volume 11, Number 2, Spring 2010.