Monday, July 12, 2010

154 years ago today, a 32-year-old Nashvillian named William Walker was inaugurated as President of Nicaragua

"Playbill for theatrical presentation of Walker’s exploits in Nicaragua.
Many Americans welcomed the conquest as evidence of God’s will."
John P. Heiss Papers, Tennessee Historical Society Collections,
Tennessee State Library and Archives
Today is the anniversary of Nashville's own William Walker taking office as 6th President of the Republic of Nicaragua, on July 12, 1856. Walker was one of the most famous figures of mid-19th century America, and certainly one of the most famous men who was ever called a filibuster (the term meant an "invader of other countries on one's own" before it meant "legislative obstructionist"). In 1857, the New York Times wrote:
The name of William Walker is, by this time, as widely known as that of any other living man in the Old World or in the New.
Though his notoriety has long since faded here in his home town (despite this downtown historical marker), the young, Nashville-born, one-time president is the subject of legend in Central America. One of Costa Rica's main national heroes is a boy who died in a battle against Walker, named Juan Santamaría. The main airport in San José is named after Santamaría, as is a Costa Rican national holiday.

So it was interesting to see that the Tennessean did recently mark Walker's long-ago July 12 inauguration, even if the mention came in a single paragraph in the history column "Skits and Bits."

Last July, the storyteller-of-history podcast The Memory Palace told the story of Walker in the episode "Presidente Walker," which still can be heard online at that link.

In 1987, there was a feature film called "Walker," in which Ed Harris played William Walker, and Everybody Loves Raymond's Peter Boyle played Cornelius Vanderbilt. Ebert & Roeper gave dismal reviews to the film, and I think they got it wrong when they said Vanderbilt hired Walker to take control of Nicaragua. Read Bill Carey's article in the Vanderbilt Register for the local historian's take on their intertwined fates. There is also the book Tycoon's War, about both Walker and Vanderbilt, but you might want to hit the library and not the bookstore for that one. Bookslut was not impressed, and the Wall Street Journal wondered aloud about its historical accuracy, saying the author "gets enough small stuff wrong to make you wonder what else is amiss".

Michael Glasgow's 2008 book The Bridge mentions William Walker 23 times. The Bridge tells the internationally renowed story of Eric Volz, who graduated from high school in Nashville and who was tried and convicted and later acquitted for murder in Nicaragua - the same country where Nashville-born Walker became President on July 12, 1856.

For more information about William Walker, read this page at the Tennessee State Library & Archives, this Wikipedia article on Walker, and these stories on


  1. I've seen the historical marker on Commerce Street and it is an amazing story.

  2. Let me add - It's an amazing story, but Walker was a meglomaniac and his bloody history, though forgotten here in the US, is not lost on even the youngest of Ticans and Nicaraguans...


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