• Dr. S. M. Johnson stands next to the Zero Milestone marker. (Photo source: Library of Congress)
    The Zero Milestone
     
     
    In the 1920s, proponents of the Good Roads Movement tried to make D.C. the center of the Western Hemisphere, at least as far as highways were concerned.
  • Benjamin Banneker
    Designing the City
     
     
    When George Washington had a falling out with capital city planner Pierre Charles L’Enfant, surveyor Benjamin Banneker came to the rescue.
  • Would you give this man a library card? (Source: Wikipedia)
    Founding Father
     
     
    George Washington may have never told a lie, but he was apparently a deadbeat book borrower.
  • Kurt Cobain performs with Nirvana at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. on October 2, 1991.
    Music History
     
     
    Nirvana’s frenetic and sweaty performance at the 9:30 Club on October 2, 1991 occurred just a few weeks before they exploded into megastardom.
  • Bathers enjoy the Tidal Basin beach. (Photo source: Library of Congress)
    Strange But True
     
     
    In the 1920s, Washingtonians dealt with the summer heat by going to the nearest beach... at the Tidal Basin.
The Engrossed Declaration of Independence, circa. 1776 (source: Library of Congress)

Lost from History: Josias Wilson King

Josias Wilson King is a name that would probably not ring any bells. In fact, even when Google-searched, it takes a great amount of effort to find much if anything about him. In life, however, he interacted with some of the most prominent men in American history – Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison – was involved in the first scandal in the Library of Congress’ history, and helped to save America’s keystone documents.

Fat man cartoon from The Washington Times, February 4, 1914

Fat Men's Clubs of D.C.

In the 19th century, being overweight was still a sign of wealth and prestige. So, it's probably not surprising that fat men’s clubs started popping up across America. There were Fat Men’s Clubs from New York to California; they eventually reached “every state in the Union” as well as the nation's capital.

The D.C. fat men’s club scene was wildly popular and members would intentionally pack on the pounds at the time of membership renewal in order to remain eligible. They were proud of their weights, even boasting about how much they had gained each week. And, sometimes, it was serious business, like 1894 when a brawl broke out between two of D.C.'s biggest clubs.

George Alfred Townsend in 1899. (Source: Wikipedia)

"Some of the noblest residences in Alexandria had been desecrated to licentious purposes."

One of the most remembered war correspondents was also the youngest reporter in the Civil War, George Alfred Townsend. Born in 1841, Townsend’s reports on the Battle of Five Forks and the Lincoln assassination gained him wide recognition, but before he had the chance to write those, Townsend visited the occupied city of Alexandria. Among his observations: "It would not accord with the chaste pages of this narrative to tell how some of the noblest residences in Alexandria had been desecrated to licentious purposes; now how, by night, the parlors of cosey homes flamed with riot and orgie [sic]."

Advertisement poster for the American Red Cross circa. 1914-1918 (Source: Library of Congress)

Honeymoon on the Western Front

On January 30, 1915, a select few of Washington’s high society came out for the wedding of Edward Motely Pickman and Hester Marion Chanler. The two married in an intimate ceremony at the Meridan Hill home of Mr. Henry White, a former Ambassador to France, and his wife Margaret “Daisy” Stuyvesant Rutherford, a prominent New York socialite. (The Whites were distant relatives but close friends of Hester’s family.) The day before, Washington’s movers and shakers celebrated the young couple at the exclusive Alibi club where membership rolls included presidents, senators, chief justices, and ambassadors.

News of the wedding took the front page of the Washington Post’s Society section. However, it was not the guest list or the bride’s dress that made the Pickmans the talk of the town. Rather, it was their unusual honeymoon plans.

Thawing the Cold War with Theatre

The cast of Inherit the Wind and the audience giving each other a standing ovation in Moscow (Source: Arena Stage)

In the middle of the Cold War the United States and the U.S.S.R. managed to find one thing they could agree on: culture. In 1958, the two countries reached an agreement which allowed each to send students, scientists and performers to the other country to exchange new ideas and technologies. The initial agreement, made during the space race and just a few years before the Cuban Missile Crisis, would eventually facilitate an exchange of 1,700 individuals. Arena Stage became a part of that exchange in 1973 when they traveled to Moscow and Leningrad.

Harriet Lane (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Other First Ladies

As President Trump's wife, Melania, has elected to stay in New York -- at least for the time being -- it has been widely speculated that the President's daughter, Ivanka, will take on some of the traditional duties of the First Lady in Washington. Many are worried that this is another break from tradition by America’s unconventional 45th president; however, there have been numerous other times in US history when the ‘First Lady’ has been a woman other than the president’s wife. Sometimes, it’s because the president is a bachelor or a widower; other times, the First Lady is too ill to fulfill her duties as hostess and appoints a substitute. Or, as often seemed the case in the 19th century and perhaps now, the president’s wife took one look at the job and said “No, thank you!”

Patent Office in 1855 after it was rebuilt. (Source:  Cliff - Flickr: The Patent Office, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17697085)

The Patent Office Fire of 1836

American commerce and invention suffered a terrible blow on December 15, 1836, when the U.S. Patent Office caught fire. The office, which was located in Blodget’s Hotel on E Street NW between 7th and 8th Streets, shared its space with the U.S. Post Office and a branch of the local fire department, of all things. Unfortunately, that volunteer fire department had disbanded and the only way to fight the flames was a bucket brigade. When the fire was finally doused, America lost an estimated 7,000 models and 9,000 drawings of pending and patented inventions.

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