• Postcard depicting Tomb of Female Stanger in Alexandria. (Credit: By Boston Public Library - Tomb of a female stranger, Alexandria, Virginia, CC BY 2.0)
    Strange But True
    In 1816, a stranger died at Gadsby’s Tavern in Alexandria. Her death and interment have sparked questions and outlandish theories ever since.
  • Alexander Robey Shepherd
    Perhaps no person is more responsible for transforming Washington, D.C. than Alexander Shepherd, who served as the District's Governor under the short-lived Territorial Government system in the 1870s.
  • The site of the Soviet Embassy, where the basketball protest took place (Source: Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey)
    Strange But True
    Protests and demonstrations take all forms in Washington, D.C. But this one had to be one of the strangest.
  • Filene Center in 1980
    It Almost Didn't Happen
    Today, Wolf Trap is a cultural hub of the DC area but opposition from Maryland congressmen almost shut down the project before it started.
  • Liquor Bottles in D.C. Around 1920 (Source: Library of Congress, Theodor Horydczak Collection)
    Strange But True
    85 years before Prohibition took effect in the city, Washington had another ban on liquor. Why? Doctors associated alcohol with cholera.
Photograph of the Soviet Embassy (Source: Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey)

A Thwarted Protest at the Soviet Embassy

On August 24, 1973, about 20 D.C. Jewish school children gathered around the Soviet Embassy holding onto basketballs. It was around noon, and they were getting ready to bounce the balls just loud enough for Soviet officials to hear. But they weren't there to play; they were there to stage a political protest.

Books You Should Read: Alexander Shepherd Biography by John Richardson

For John Richardson, Washington’s influential territorial governor, Alexander Robey “Boss” Shepherd, has been a source of fascination for over 30 years, since the author moved into D.C.’s Shepherd Park neighborhood. Balancing this curiosity with a day job in the CIA and stints overseas meant that progress on the book was slower than Richardson intended. But, the result of his labors is worth the wait for local history enthusiasts. Richardson’s recently published biography, Alexander Robey Shepherd: The Man Who Built the Nation’s Capital (Ohio University Press, 2016) is a thoroughly researched and well written study of a man who, despite his enormous impact on the District of Columbia, has not gotten the attention he deserves from scholars. Check out our video with the author!

Filene Center in 1980. (Source: Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

Wolf Trap Captures the Hearts of the DMV

Today, Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts is a mainstay of Washington, D.C.’s cultural life. The park’s large outdoor auditorium and beautiful green space play host to a variety of performers. However, 50 years ago, some politicians questioned whether it was a wise decision for the government to accept the land gift from Catherine Filene Shouse and build the performing arts center.

Postcard depicting Tomb of Female Stanger (Credi: By Boston Public Library - Tomb of a female stranger, Alexandria, Virginia, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41983533)

The Female Stranger of Alexandria

Two hundred years ago, an unknown woman breathed her last in room 8 of Gadsby’s Tavern in Old Town Alexandria. Her husband prepared her body for death in secret and sealed her coffin personally. After seeing that she was placed in a local graveyard, he vanished. It’s the sort of story that would condemn a person to be lost to history, but the circumstances surrounding this woman’s death and interment sparked centuries of questions and outlandish theories. Even now, no one alive knows her name. She remains the Female Stranger of Alexandria.

1884: The Year of Two Nationals

1888 Washington Nationals Baseball Club (Source: Wikipedia)

Over the years, Washington, D.C. has been home to numerous professional baseball teams, very few of them with winning records. But, 1884 might take the cake for weirdness. That year, the nation's capital boasted two separate teams called the Washington Nationals. They finished a combined 59-116.

Elizabeth Smith Friedman Photograph (Source: National Security Administration)

Elizebeth Friedman: Coast Guard Code Breaker

By the end of her life, Elizebeth Smith Friedman was renowned for her work deciphering codes from civilian criminals. She cracked the codes that sent members of what one prosecutor called “the most powerful international smuggling syndicate in existence” to jail, took down a Vancouver opium ring, and caught a World War II Japanese spy.

Exploring Local African American History Beyond the New Smithsonian Museum

Exterior of the Anacostia Neighborhood/Community Museum (Source: Smithsonian Institution)

If you live in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and you are interested in visiting the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) but have not secured tickets yet, this might be a great time to explore the many African American history focused museums, cultural centers and historic houses in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia.

Broadhead-Bell-Morton Mansion. (Source: National Register of Historic Places)

D.C.'s Ill-Fated Wedding of the Decade, 1903

For Washington socialites, the most anticipated event of the winter season arrived on January 19, 1903. The rooms of the Russian embassy were full to bursting with the best of the Capital. The entire diplomatic corps, the Cabinet, and the Supreme Court were in attendance. While downstairs guests were being shown to their places, the crying bride was being dressed in her finery upstairs. The Parisian gown was made of white satin and gold brocade, and just dripping with pearls. A mantel of lace fell from her shoulders, over a full court train, and a “misty veil of tulle” was fastened to her head with a coronet of orange blossoms. A wedding gift from the groom, a magnificent diamond collar with ruby clasps, encircled Irene des Planques neck. It might as well have been a noose.