Dec. 6, 1876, was a Saturday, and as the day got underway in Washington, Americans still did not know who the winner of the previous month’s presidential election was. A commission established by Congress ultimately decided in favor of popular-vote loser Rutherford B. Hayes in the new year. A few weeks before, Boss Tweed was brought to justice for the rampant corruption he oversaw in New York, and just the day before, as many as 300 people were killed in a fire at the Brooklyn Theater.
In the course of 1876, Alexander Graham Bell received a patent for the telephone and Thomas Edison received a patent for a duplicating machine dubbed a mimeograph. On that Saturday morning, however, residents of Washington and scores of visitors from afar were marching up what was then called Gallows Hill to witness a spectacle that had been denounced as unholy and repulsive.