March 2014

When Elvis Played Washington

Elvis Presley made headlines when he showed up at the White House unannounced and offered his services to President Nixon to fight the war on drugs in 1970. It was an odd event, which led to an even odder photo. But the Elvis-Nixon meeting was memorable for another reason: It was one of only four appearances that Elvis ever made in the Washington, DC area.

Elvis' first visit to Washington was on March 23, 1956--the same day, by coincidence, that his first full-length album, Elvis Presley, was released. Col. Tom Parker, who was in the process of taking over as the 21-year-old singer's manager, had close ties to Washington-based country disc jockey, manager and promoter Connie B. Gay, who booked Elvis to headline a floating concert on the S.S. Mount Vernon, a small ship that sailed the Potomac.

All the ‘Hoos Down in ‘Hooville: The Persistent Myth of the Grinch in Charlottesville

High on Lewis Mountain, to the west of the picturesque college town of Charlottesville, sits a house that looks down on the famous University of Virginia. According to legend, Massachusetts resident Dr. Theodore Giesel  – better known to the majority of the world as Dr. Seuss – lived in the house after his application to the university was rejected.

Giesel was allegedly so upset over being snubbed by UVA that he purchased a house on the hill overlooking the school, because its elevated location allowed him to “look down” on the institution that rejected him. The setting is also allegedly the inspiration behind his famous children’s book How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Which does, after all, come with repeated references to all those ‘Hoos down in ‘Hooville – something that UVA students, nicknamed “Wahoos” – or ‘Hoos for short – in honor of a particular type of fish, have always embraced.

Hmmm... could it be true?

Host to History: 1966 NCAA Final Four at Cole Field House

Nowadays the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four is played in huge football stadiums that can seat 50,000 or more fans. But that wasn’t always the case. Back in the day, the games took place in much smaller, on-campus arenas and the media coverage was paltry compared to what we see now. Such was the case in 1966, when the University of Maryland’s Cole Field House hosted college basketball’s final weekend.

That might not sound like a big deal, but with the way the tournament unfolded, the 1966 championship game proved to be a major event in the civil rights movement.

Attempted Rembrandt Heist at the Corcoran

The 145-year-old Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington's oldest private art museum, recently announced that it will be taken over by George Washington University and the  National Gallery of Art and cease to exist as an independent institution. That makes it a good time to look back at one of the more bizarre events in the history of art in Washington--the attempted theft in 1959 of a painting by 17th Century master Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn.

Washington has a long history of thefts of antiquities from its museums but this attempted heist was one of the stranger assaults on artwork that our city has seen.

Hamaas Abdul Khaalis (AP photo)

The Hanafi Siege of 1977

When Pierre L’Enfant designed the city of Washington, he structured the wide boulevards and traffic circles so that it could not be easily tied up by violence, as Paris had been during the French Revolution. Yesterday, it was obvious that L’Enfant failed.

So read the Washington Post on the morning of March 10, 1977. But traffic was the least of Washington’s concerns that day.

How "Schneider's Folly" Became D.C.'s Most Exotic Landmark

One of the things that helps make Washington's vistas so grand--but continually frustrates developers and architects--is the district's Congressionally-imposed115-year-long ban on skyscrapers. Congress passed the 1899 Height of Buildings Act, and then modified the law in 1910, creating a  complex set of restrictions based on location and street width.

It might seem intuitive that the skyscraper ban was imposed to protect views of the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument. But oddly, Congress was prompted to restrict construction heights because of Dupont Circle residents' griping about being overshadowed by what today is regarded as one of the District's architectural treasures--The Cairo apartments at 1615 Q Street NW.

History Bloggers Rejoice! Getty Now Allows Free Embeds of Images

One of the big challenges to writing a history blog is finding good images. Well, things just got a lot easier with Getty's announcement that it is making up to 35 million images available for bloggers to embed in their sites for free. The company has created a new embed tool that allows images to be shared and includes proper photo credit information. See an example of the new tool at work after the jump.

Oscar-Winner "12 Years a Slave" is a Reminder of the Local Slave Trade

Director Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave, which won Best Picture at the 2014 Academy Awards telecast on Sunday, serves to highlight a horrific and shameful part of local history — the area's role as a transit depot and resale market for humans held in involuntary servitude.

For those who haven't yet seen it, the acclaimed film tells the true story of Solomon Northup, a free African-American violinist who in 1841 traveled from his home in New York to Washington, DC, with the promise of a high-paying job as a circus musician. He didn't know that his prospective employers actually were slave traders.