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Robert G. Ingersoll quotation from the title page of “The Dresden Edition, Vol. 8”
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Walking Tour Stop 7

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The National Theatre
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The National Theatre

National Theatre, 1321 E Street, N.W.

One of the oldest theaters in the United States, the National Theatre has occupied this site since 1835. The present building is the sixth National Theatre on this location. The fourth National Theatre was built in 1873, and it burned down in 1885. The fifth was built in 1885.

Ingersoll lectured in Washington on December 12, 1877, probably at the National Theatre, just before moving here. In all, Ingersoll delivered approximately 1300 lectures during his career and 28 lectures in Washington, DC. , 15 at this theatre.

Described by the Washington Post as the “plenipotentiary of his satanic majesty to the United States of America,” Ingersoll addressed a standing-room-only crowd of 1600 on February 24, 1879, on “Some Mistakes of Moses.” The National Theatre “was of course, brilliantly illuminated,” reported the Post, and “the stage was set for a parlor scene, and on a centre-table, which was placed prominently in the fore of the picture, was a beautiful bouquet, the gift of Mr. George O. Miller,” a police department detective.

The National Theatre, c. 1884
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The National Theatre, c. 1884

The Washington Post reported that 1200 persons braved a “terrific storm” and walked through “blinding snow” to hear Ingersoll speak on “Liberty for Man, Woman and Child” at the National Theatre on March 3, 1879.

Ingersoll delivered his speech entitled “Orthodoxy” on December 14, 1884, at the National Theatre. “Posters advertising the lecture had been torn down and it was raining, but nevertheless the house was full. Several members of Congress were present.” Speaking about the “power” of prayer, Ingersoll said, “They often pray for the impossible. In the House of Representatives in Washington I once heard a chaplain pray for what he must have known was impossible: I pray thee, 0 God, to give Congress wisdom. At this point the whole audience convulsed with laughter” (Smith, 1990, p. 239).

Ad for Speech, March 1880
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Ad for Speech, March 1880

Ingersoll began his speech on orthodoxy as follows:

It gives me immense pleasure to say to this audience that orthodox religion is dying out of the civilized world. It is a sick man. It has been attacked with two diseases — softening of the brain and ossification of the heart. It is a religion that no longer satisfies the intelligence of this country; that no longer satisfies the brain; a religion against which the heart of every civilized man and woman protests. It is a religion that gives hope only to a few; that puts a shadow upon the cradle; that wraps the coffin in darkness and fills the future of mankind with flame and fear. It is a religion that I am going to do what little I can while I live to destroy. In its place I want humanity, I want good fellowship, I want intellectual liberty — free lips, the discoveries and inventions of genius, the demonstrations of science — the religion of art, music and poetry — of good houses, good clothes, good wages — that is to say, the religion of this world.

Walking Directions (printable version)

To walk to tour stop #8:

Go west on E Street to 14th Street. Then*, turn right and walk north two blocks to G Street. Turn left on G Street and walk one half block.

*Restrooms can be found in the Willard Hotel across the street. Walk through the lobby and down the long corridor (called Peacock Alley). Restrooms are on the left. The stairs at the end of this corridor will take you up to F Street. Walk up 14th Street, turn left on G Street and walk one half block.

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