The “City of Magnificent Distances” is one of the more obscure nicknames for Washington, D.C. It is frequently dated to the 1880s, but this seems to be based on a passing reference on Barry Popik’s site quoting a newspaper article from 1881, and making no claim to being the earliest usage. I bring this up because I have seen the nickname various times in my early baseball research from the 1860s and 1870s, and I am curious about tracking down its origin. The Jeffersonian, a newspaper from Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, in its issue of November 1, 1866 has a lengthy piece about the Stroudsburg baseball club visiting Milford, about ten miles away, to play the local Sawkill Club. The writer was very pleased by the treatment by the locals (particularly the supper provided) and waxed rhapsodic about Milford, including this:
‘As yet, it may aptly be called, as Randolph, of Roanoke, called the city of Washington, a village of “magnificent distances;” but the spirit of enterprise is there which will soon make Milford the compact, thriving borough, and the town “of beauty,” which to its inhabitants, and to visitors, will prove “a joy for ever.“‘
This ascribes the nickname of John Randolph, a congressman from Virginia in the early 19th century. A google search turns up no other evidence supporting this, however. It also seems to be saying that the point of the nickname was that, at least in Randolph’s time, the city of Washington was spread out and thinly populated. Perhaps the nickname died out because it no longer made sense, and only survived as long as it did because it is colorful, even if nonsensical. Or perhaps I am missing something, and y’all will cheerfully point this out to me.