When 42-year-old poet Walt Whitman arrived in Washington, D.C., in 1862, as the Civil War engulfed the country, he had already penned the collection Leaves of Grass, along with war-themed works like the poem “Beat! Beat! Drums!” in support of the North. Whitman made haste to the city to search hospitals for his brother, George, a Union solider, after seeing his sibling’s name listed in a New York newspaper as being among the wounded during a battle in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He was later reunited with his brother at an army hospital outside the city.
Whitman’s unexpected journey to the nation’s capital began his decade-long stint residing there. On October 31, bibliophiles can explore the poet’s stomping grounds and hear inside stories during “Walt Whitman in D.C.: A Walking Tour,” hosted by Politics and Prose bookstore and lead by Garrett Peck. The tour begins in the courtyard at the National Portrait Gallery, where Whitman once worked when the building was the Old Patent Office, and stops include the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office. Peck is a historian and the author of Walt Whitman in Washington, D.C.: The Civil War and America’s Great Poet.
The tour, which takes place rain or shine, begins at noon and costs $45 per person. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes. The Whitman walk covers about two miles of ground, capped off with a cocktail and a view at the POV bar atop the W Hotel, which is situated on a site where the poet once lived.