House: A Hidden Treasure
When writing Lethal Legacies, I wanted to include well known historical locations as the setting for importance scenes in the story. Kit Marshall visits the White House, Georgetown University, and the Smithsonian African American Museum, picking up clues along the way. I also included a lesser-known historical site, Decatur House on Lafayette Square. I’m quite familiar with Decatur House: my White House Historical Association office is located there.
I work on the third floor of Decatur House, which was built in 1819 by Commodore Stephen Decatur and his wife Susan. Stephen Decatur was a famous naval war hero from the Barbary Wars and the War of 1812. He earned prize money for his exploits and had enough resources to purchase an entire block just north of the White House. Decatur House, designed by the famous architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe, was the first private residence in the vicinity of the White House. It is a three-story red brick structure, designed in the Federal style.
Unfortunately, Decatur lost life in 1820 in a duel with Commodore James Barron, dying inside Decatur House from his wounds. Susan Decatur rented the house for fifteen years after her husband’s demise. Two of the most famous occupants were secretaries of state Henry Clay and Martin Van Buren. Both brought enslaved people to Decatur House. She later sold the house to John Gadsby, a wealthy hotelier. More enslaved workers lived in Decatur House during the Gadsby years.
After the federal government seized the house during the Civil War, it was purchased by Edward Beale in 1871, who was the ambassador to Austria-Hungary during the Grant administration. It remained in the Beale family until 1956, when Marie Beale bequeathed the home to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The White House Historical Association is now a co-steward of the house, along with the National Trust.
I weave much of this colorful history into Lethal Legacies. Every day when I come to work, I pass by the beautiful dining room, entrance hall, and parlors of Decatur House. I also walk by the corridor when enslaved workers lived, now maintained as a historical example of urban slavery. It’s a fabulous place, full of historical intrigue and mystery, both real and imagined.
About Lethal Legacies
It's springtime in Washington, D.C. and congressional staffer Kit Marshall has more on her plate than she can handle. With her boss campaigning for an open U.S. Senate seat, Kit is left to run the office in her absence and manage a new week long American history extravaganza filled with high-profile events, lectures, and receptions.
When the Director of the Capitol Visitor's Center ends up dead, Kit springs into action to clear a longtime friend, who becomes the prime suspect in the murder. With her best pal Meg pressuring her to solve the mystery quickly, Kit must figure out how to navigate her closest relationships while keeping an eye out for the diabolical killer.
The investigation takes Kit across the city to famous locations, including Georgetown University, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the White House.
When the killer strikes a second time, the pressure to solve the crimes intensifies. Has our favorite Capitol Hill sleuth finally met her match? In the end, Kit learns the hard way that history tends to repeat itself, often with deadly consequences.
About Colleen J. Shogan
Colleen J. Shogan has been reading mysteries since the age of six. A political scientist by training, Colleen has taught American politics at several universities and previously worked on Capitol Hill as a legislative staffer in the United States Senate and as a senior executive at the Library of Congress. She is currently the Senior Vice President of the White House Historical Association.
Colleen is a member of Sisters in Crime. "Stabbing in the Senate" was awarded the Next Generation Indie prize for Best Mystery in 2016. "Homicide in the House" was a 2017 finalist for the RONE Award for Best Mystery. “Calamity at the Continental Club” was a 2018 finalist in the “best cozy mystery” at Killer Nashville. “Larceny at the Library” won the 2021 IPPY bronze medal for mystery. She lives in Arlington, Virginia with her husband Rob and their beagle mutt Conan.