By David “DJ” Johnson
First off, I should confess something considering my audience here.
Up until this point, neither I nor Mike, my partner of over four years, considered ourselves preservation enthusiasts. Living in our nation’s capital, we were basically aware of the history that surrounded us, but more from our past history classes than through conscious knowledge or first-hand experience.
All that changed when we decided to get hitched.
Last July, I asked Mike if he would do me the honor of commemorating our love and our commitment to each other in front of our closest family and friends. While I’ve supported marriage rights for same-sex couples throughout my adult life, I didn't really know if it was something that I would do myself. Then I met Mike. Over the years, I've watched our love bloom to a point where I simply could not imagine anyone else ever understanding, contrasting (in a good way) and loving me so completely.
Now I'm a believer.
The decision was made, but now we needed the perfect venue. Mike considers himself a New Yorker (he lived there for 13 years) by way of Minnesota (where he was born), and I’m more of a gypsy (my family moved five times before I was 16). Washington, DC is where we truly began our life together, and for this reason, it is where we decided to have our ceremony.
As for us, Mike and I are both fairly laid back people – more hoi polloi than elite (though we think it’s funny to use words like "hoi polloi"). And at this point, both of us are more spiritual than religious. We wanted a secular location that was simple but not plain, elegant but not pretentious, and that spoke to both our shared interests and to sophisticated DC life. And as someone who grew up around the lakes, forests and natural beauty of the Midwest, Michael hoped for a place with some connection to nature where we could hold our ceremony outside.
Now, here’s where I need to debunk a major gay stereotype. Unlike what you’ve seen on "Sex and the City" or "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," not all gay men have an automatic knack for event planning. Some of us have to really work at it. And some of us just flat out need help. Enter the wedding planner...
Ours booked appointments and site visits for us all over the hills and dales of Maryland, Virginia and the District. We looked at mansions (too "Gossip Girl!"), country estates (where's the public transportation?), concert halls (there goes the budget!), and even an enormous log cabin (um, bugs!).
Then we visited the Woodrow Wilson House, which is located only a couple of blocks from our apartment in the adjoining neighborhood of Embassy Row. On the outside it looks like a simple brick building, making it easy to underestimate. But once you step inside, it has a powerful elegance that leaves a lasting impression. From its sweeping staircases to its preserved furnishings, we fell in love with everything about the place. And the second floor outdoor garden was just the place we were looking for to hold our ceremony – stunning and bucolic without being too over the top. It also overlooks the very street where our apartment is located, which we think makes it even more special.
After we settled on the locale, I started to research our 28th president and his final residence. I didn’t know much about him before, other than the fact that he was commander-in-chief during World War I, eventually helping to write the framework for the original Treaty of Versailles. However, it turns out that he had many similarities to my family. He came from a family of Presbyterian ministers (my mother’s side), lived in New Jersey (my father’s side) and he was known as a diplomat (something I aspire to be). He also had some similarities to Mike, as Wilson was in a fraternity, had a PhD (so far, he’s the only president of that distinction), and possessed a great love of the science of structures.
Oh, and it didn’t hurt that, for two self-professed “mama’s boys” like us, Woody was the first president to declare Mother’s Day.
Of course, there were some other more thought-provoking milestones in his life. While he helped progress the women’s suffrage movement (yay!), he was also a vocal supporter of segregation (boo!). Being an interracial couple, Mike and I talked about this last fact quite a bit. Ultimately, we decided that, like with most events in history, it’s important to remember the good ideas that were ahead of their time, as well as the not-so-great ones that were simply a product of their era.
As we continue to plan every important detail of our big event (I'm trying really hard not to turn into one of those bridezillas you see on TV...yikes!), life goes on. Every morning, my fiancé and I rush to work from our one-hundred-year-old apartment building that is located across from DC’s own reproduction of the Spanish Steps in Madrid. I pass countless other older and historic buildings with amazing architectural detail along the way. However, unlike before, I now notice them.
For that, I thank the Woodrow Wilson House.
Not only will it be the backdrop to what promises to be one of the happiest days of my life, but it has taught me and mine to look at – and appreciate – our city and neighborhood with brand new eyes.
David Johnson ("DJ" to his friends and "My Boo" to his fiancé, Mike) is a journalist turned non-profit professional in Washington, DC, where he lives in the very historic – and very gay – Dupont Circle neighborhood.
Interested in having an event or commitment ceremony at the Woodrow Wilson House? With intimate and elegant spaces furnished with the personal effects of a president, Wilson House offers the perfect surroundings to entertain in classic Washington style. Dine intimately in the Presidential Dining Room, enjoy cocktails throughout the main museum rooms, linger in the tranquil period garden, or relax and unwind on the terrace. The only presidential museum in Washington, DC, Wilson House offers a unique setting for any occasion – from dinner for two to garden receptions and commitment ceremonies for up to 125. For more information, please contact Sarah Andrews at email@example.com or visit our website, WoodrowWilsonHouse.org.
Join the National Trust for Historic Preservation as we celebrate Pride + Preservation throughout the month of June. Want to help us show some pride in place? Upload a This Place Matters photo of a building, site or neighborhood that matters to you and your local LGBT community.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.