Olmsted in 1857

Olmsted in 1857 around the time he was to begin constructing New York City’s Central Park

Today marks a unique moment in Civil War and American history: Frederick Law Olmsted arrived in Washington D.C. from New York City on this date 155 years ago today. It is interesting to note that while he was one of the few predicting a long war and not the ninety day fight many forecast, he thought his own work with The Sanitary was only going to take six weeks or so. After that he would,he believed, go back and finish Central Park. The timing, for the country if not Olmsted, could not have been better; the Central Park commissioners had just significantly cut back his authority, which subsequently freed him total on the job of the Sanitary Commission secretary. Olmsted passionately believed in Union and an end to slavery, and I have a feeling the USSC secretaryship was not the means by which he most wanted to serve in putting down the rebellion. Had his health issues not been a hindrance,he might well have served in uniform.

Olmsted stayed on with the Sanitary Commission for two years and eventually left due to burnout and endless squabbles with his superiors, something that was a pattern with the intense landscaper artist. Still in those two years he set many of the procedures and precedents that carried on through the Great War via the Red Cross, the Second World War with the USO, and really on to the present day, albeit in different ways. It all began less than a month before the First Battle of Bull Run when Olmsted stepped off that train on June 27, 1861.