January 2014

Filed Under:DC

Pete Seeger in Washington

Pete Seeger performing at a party at the Congress of Industrial Organizations canteen in Washington DC in 1944, as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt looks on. Credit: Library of Congress. Pete Seeger, the folk music legend who passed away on Jan. 27 at age 94 in New York City, was a performer whose art was intertwined in close harmony with a slew of social causes, ranging from civil rights and the organized labor movement to environmentalism. As he once wrote, "Music, as any art, is not an end in itself, but is a means for achieving larger ends." While Seeger lived most of his life in upstate New York, Seeger's twin passions for music and activism often brought him to Washington, where his calm eloquence and forthrightness gave him influence in the White House — and also subjected him to peril. 

Filed Under:DC

The Demise of DC's Streetcars

A streetcar in front of the U.S. Capitol. Credit: Theodor Horydczak, Library of CongressFor those of us who are nostalgic or liked to play with model trains when we were kids, today marks a rather inauspicious anniversary. 52 years ago, on January 28, 1962, Washington's original streetcar system road the rails for the final time. That last run ended 99 and a half years of service to the nation's capital as buses replaced the trolleys as the primary means of mass transit in the District. So, how did we get to that point?

After going electric in the last decade of the 19th Century, the streetcars quickly became a crucial part of transportation in the nation's capital, just as they were in other cities across the country. But Washington's system--which gradually coalesced from a hodgepodge of small companies into a single entity, the sprawling Capital Transit Co. in 1933--faced special problems.

Filed Under:DC

DC's Once Grand Streetcar System

Workers repair streetcar tracks at 14th and G Streets NW in 1941. Source: Library of CongressMany U.S. cities--including Washington--are now looking again to a late 19th-century transportation technology, the electric streetcar, as a tool to help revitalize business and entertainment districts and attract young professionals and empty nesters to consider urban living. Here in DC, the District Department of Transportation says it is in the finishing stages of completing a new line along H Street and Benning Road NE, which eventually will form part of a new DC Streetcar system with eight lines and 37 miles of track, which will serve all of the District's eight wards.

That makes it a good time to look back at the history of Washington's once-grand system of electric streetcars.

Filed Under:DC

Save the Suitcases! The Willard Hotel Fire of 1922

The recently renovated ballroom of the Willard Hotel was destroyed by fire on April 23, 1922. (Photo source: Library of CongressThere have certainly been worse fires, but the Willard Hotel blaze of 1922 caused quite a stir. It resulted in $400,000 (close to $5,400,000 in today's money!) in damages to the grand hotel and sent some of the District's most distinguished citizens and guests out into the street in their pajamas. Some just moved a little more quickly than others. Apparently emergency procedures were a little different back then.

Filed Under:DC

Salinger and the Swami

Four years after he published The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger and his wife, Claire traveled to Washington, D.C. in pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. (Photo courtesy of Antony Di Gesu via PBS Pressroom)J.D. Salinger, one of the most important American writers of the 20th Century and the subject of tonight's American Masters documentary, was deeply influenced by Indian philosophy and religion. But that spiritual quest, curiously, led him to not to Varanasi or some other Indian city, but to Washington, D.C.

It happened in the spring of 1955. It was four years after the publication of Salinger's celebrated novel, The Catcher in the Rye, and two years after his anthology, Nine Stories, futher established him as a literary sensation.

Filed Under:DC, Virginia

The Wawaset Disaster of 1873

Wawaset Horror Headline from Washington Evening Star Newspaper, August 9, 1873. (Source: Library of Congress)Few remember it today, but in 1873 “the Waswaset horror” broke the hearts of many in D.C. and the surrounding area.

On August 8, 1873, the Wawaset was heading towards Cone River from Washington. Around 11:30AM, near Chatterson’s Landing, the fireman of the steamer raised the alarm that a fire had broken out on board. The boat was very dry, “almost like timber”, and it spread quickly on the oiled machinery of the steamer. Captain Woods immediately steered the boat towards shore. He stayed in the pilot’s house in order to keep the steering ropes from catching on fire; if those were lost, there would be no way to direct the steamer. If the steamer could make it to shore before the fire became too much for those on board, any loss of life could be avoided. Sadly, it didn’t happen that way.

Filed Under:DC, Maryland

The Real Story Behind "The Exorcist"

The "Exorcist" stairs in Georgetown, which did not figure in the actual case that inspired the movie. Credit: Sarah Stierch, Wikimedia CommonsOne of the most famous movies set in Washington is The Exorcist, the 1973 tale of a Roman Catholic priest's struggle to save a 12-year-old girl named Regan (Linda Blair) from demonic possession, which transfixed theater-goers with its phantasmagoric gore. The William Friedkin-directed film not only was a box office smash, but also became the first horror film ever nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and four decades after its release,The Exorcist and its D.C. connection continue to resonate in the public imagination. Case in point: The film's shocking climax, in which the progagonist, Father Damien Karras (portrayed by Jason Miller) takes the demon Pazuzu into his own body and is hurled to his death, has turned the steep set of steps in Georgetown where it was filmed into a macabre local landmark.

But The Exorcist has another, even more unsettling connection to the Washington area. William Peter Blatty, who wrote both the screenplay and the bestselling 1971 novel from which it was derived, was inspired by an actual case in which a 14-year-old boy purportedly was possessed by the devil, which occurred in Prince George's County 65 years ago.

Filed Under:DC, Maryland, Virginia

10 Years Later: Remembering Elizabeth Campbell

Elizabeth  Campbell in the 1950s.January 9, 2004 was a very sad day for us here at WETA. It was the day that we lost Elizabeth Campbell, our founder and a pillar in the Washington, D.C. area community. Ten years later, we look back and celebrate her life and vision.

Thank you for everything you did to serve WETA and the Washington community, Mrs. Campbell. We still feel your impact today. May you continue to rest in peace.

Filed Under:DC

The Mayor for Life Takes Office

Marion and Effi Barry on January 2, 1979, after Mr. Barry was sworn in as mayor. (Photo credit: Star Collection, DC Public Library; © Washington Post)Nowadays they call him the "Mayor for Life," but 35 years ago Marion Barry was just getting started. In 1978, he narrowly defeated incumbent mayor Walter E. Washington and D.C. Council Chairman Stanley Tucker in the Democratic primary, and then coasted to victory over Republican Arthur Fletcher in the general election.

On January 2, 1979, Barry was sworn in as the mayor of Washington, D.C. A new era of D.C. politics had begun.

Public Broadcasting for Greater Washington
Copyright © 2014 WETA. All Rights Reserved.
Terms | Privacy | Guidelines

3939 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206 Phone: 703-998-2600 | Map & Directions