DC

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Impressions of Washington: William Howard Russell, 1861

William Howard Russell in 1854. (Photo source: Wikipedia)William Howard Russell (1820 – 1907) was a reporter for The Times of the UK; he is considered the first war correspondent. In 1861, this intrepid reporter was sent to our very own capital to cover the Civil War. He recorded his arrival in his diary, which was later published and remains available to see exactly what this Irishman thought of Washington. Spoiler alert, he quite liked it!

March 25, 1861

I looked out and saw a vast mass of white marble towering above us on the left, stretching out in colonnaded porticoes, and long flanks of windowed masonry, and surmounted by an unfinished cupola, from which scaffold and cranes raised their black arms. This was the Capitol. To the right was a cleared space of mud, sand, and fields, studded with wooden sheds and huts, beyond which, again, could be seen rudimentary streets of small red brick houses, and some church-spires above them.

Filed Under:DC

Washington Reacts to the Sinking of the Lusitania

Drawing of torpedoed Lusitania printed in New York Herald and London Sphere, ca. 1915 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)On the morning of May 1, 1915 Washington Post subscribers opened their morning newspapers and found a stern message from the Imperial German Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue.

“Travelers intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles; that, in accordance with formal notices given by the imperial German government, vessels flying the flag of Great Britain or of any of her allies are liable to destruction in these waters and that travelers sailing in the war zone on ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk.”

The same warning was printed in papers all across the United States – a harbinger of things to come as World War I raged in Europe.

Filed Under:DC

Mount Pleasant Boils Over, 1991

Riots in Mount Pleasant, 1991. (Source: Flickr user secorlew. Used via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license.)Angry mobs clashing with police… Looting… Flames…. It was a scene out of the 1968 riots. But this was a different time and place. The year was 1991 and D.C.’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood was boiling over.

The firestorm started at around 7pm on the evening of May 5. Angela Jewell and Girsel Del Valle, rookie cops from the Metropolitan Police Department’s 4th District, were out on patrol in the neighborhood. They approached a group of men who appeared to be drinking in public at 17th and Lamont Streets, NW. Angry words were exchanged and the men supposedly became disorderly. The officers began to make arrests.

What happened next was the source of some debate.

Filed Under:DC

Nixon’s Weirdest Day


On April 20, 1970 President Nixon addressed the nation outlining his plan for the withdrawal of 150,000 troops from Vietnam. Ten days later however, the anti-war movement was stunned by his announcement of a major new escalation in the fighting — the U.S. invasion of Cambodia. Campuses across the country exploded in dissent, culminating in the killing of four students at Kent State University by National Guard troops on May 4.

In the tense days following Kent State, impromptu rallies erupted all over the Washington region, and a major demonstration was planned for May 9 on the National Mall. Law enforcement entities went on hair trigger alert, mobilizing all available resources including the entire D.C. police force and 5,000 locally-stationed troops.

It was in this combustible atmosphere that an idea germinated in Richard Nixon’s muddled mind in the wee hours of May 9, 1970. It would prove to be one of the most bizarre incidents of his presidency, and that’s saying a lot.

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President Taft Starts a Baseball Tradition in Washington, 1910

President Taft probably didn't realize he was starting a tradition when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Washington Nationals' Opening Day game in 1910. (Source: George W. Bush White House)“Scan all the annals of Washington base ball as you will – go back to the very inception of the national game – there will be found no day so altogether glorious no paean of victory changed by rooters and fanatics half so sweet as that witnessed yesterday in honor of the opening of the season on 1910.” So read the Washington Post the morning after the Washington Nationals’ 3-0 season-opening victory over the Philadelphia Athletics.

The account may have been a bit rhetorical, but D.C. had reason to be excited, beyond the normal good cheer of baseball’s opening day and the happy result of the game. On April 14, 1910, the city had made history by inaugurating a now-famous tradition: the Presidential first pitch.

Filed Under:DC, Virginia

Contraband Camps of Northern Virginia

 

It's easy to remember the battles -- First Manassas, Second Manassas, Antietam and more -- but the Washington, D.C. area was also home to many other significant Civil War events, too. After all, it was here that Col. Robert E. Lee resigned his commission in the U.S. Army and followed his home state of Virginia to the Confederacy; it was here that President Lincoln directed the Union's war effort; it was here that the President was assassinated in 1865.

And, it was also here that thousands of African Americans first experienced freedom after generations in bondage through the "contraband" camps, which the federal government created on the abandoned lands of secessionists during the war. 

Local Civil War blogger Ron Baumgarten has been exploring these largely-forgotten camps recently on his Civil War blog, All Not So Quiet Along the Potomac and will be sharing some of his research in a talk for the Arlington Historical Society this Thursday night at 7pm. The program is free and takes place in the Reinsch Library auditorium at Marymount University.

I recently sat down with Ron and he gave me a preview of his talk. Check out the video above and read more after the jump!

Filed Under:DC

Georgetown University's Imperial Prince

Agustin de Iturbide y Green was the heir to the Mexican throne but a strange series of events led him to a career as a professor at Georgetown University. (Photo source: Wikipedia)Georgetown University has some pretty prestigious professors. But did you know the school once had an imperial prince on their staff? Don Agustin de Iturbide y Green, with a name as weighty as the Infanta, taught Spanish and French at Georgetown near the end of the 19th century. How did Don Agustin, the heir to two emperors, end up in elbow pads? It’s sort of a long story, which takes us from Georgetown to Mexico to France and back.

The Rosedale estate in Georgetown was the grand home of Alice Green, granddaughter of Revolutionary War General Uriah Forrest and great-granddaughter of Maryland Governor George Plater. This belle was basically American royalty, which was great for when she married Don Angel Maria de Iturbide y Huarte, the exiled prince of the Mexican imperial line and a student at Georgetown University. By the time the lovebirds met and wed, Angel’s father, Agustin the First, had been deposed and executed. Although Alice’s husband and their son, Agustin, had a technical claim to the throne, few suspected that Agustin I’s nine-month rule would bring his descendants anything.

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Cancer War: The FDA Vs. Harry Hoxsey

In 1957, the FDA put up a warning poster in 46,000 post offices about Hoxsey's dubious cancer cure. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Since Congress established the National Cancer Institute in 1937, funding research to better understand — and hopefully find a cure — for the disease has been the major focus of the federal war on cancer. But on another front, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has fought a long battle against unproven remedies offered to the desperately ill by practitioners and promoters outside the medical mainstream.

In particular, the agency fought a pitched battle in the 1950s and early 1960s against a Texas-based self-styled healer named Harry Hoxsey — even taking the unusual step in 1957 of putting up posters in 46,000 post offices throughout the nation, warning people that Hoxsey's anti-cancer treatment was worthless and fraudulent. 

Filed Under:DC

How the Federal Anti-Cancer Effort Began

Sen. Matthew Mansfield Neely of West Virginia introduced the first legislation to fund cancer research. Credit: West Virginia State Archives

Today, the federal government's National Cancer Institute invests nearly $5 billion each year in medical research aimed at learning more about various types of cancer and finding cures for them. While it's a war in which many battles still lie ahead, there have been some encouraging signs of progress, with death rates decreasing for the most common types of cancer.

But it took a long time for the federal anti-cancer effort to get rolling, and it started small. By the late 1920s, the U.S. government had made barely a token investment in fighting an affliction that at the time claimed 83.4 lives per 100,000 population, making it one of the nation's leading causes of death.

More resources needed to be invested in fighting cancer, and the man who started the battle to get that money was a colorful politician born in a West Virginia log cabin named Matthew Mansfield Neely.

Filed Under:DC

Tractor Man Lays Siege to Washington

Dwight Watson on his tractor in pond at Constitution Gardens, 2003. (Photo source: Associated Press via Wikipedia)When you think of protests in Washington, D.C., what comes to mind? Demonstrators in front of the White House? A rally on Capitol Hill? A march down Constitution Avenue? Well, on March 17, 2003 a North Carolina tobacco farmer took a very different tact.

Around noon that day, 50-year old Dwight Watson drove his Jeep into D.C., towing his John Deere tractor on a flat bed trailer. Heading up Constitution Avenue, he suddenly jumped the curb and drove straight into the pond at Constitution Gardens between the Vietnam Memorial and the Washington Monument. Watson began playing patriotic music and then climbed onto the tractor, which he adorned with an upside-down American flag – a traditional sign of distress – and a yellow flag with a tobacco leaf on it.

In was a odd scene and authorities were perplexed. But, in the post 9/11 world they weren’t about to take any chances. Officers from the Park Police, D.C. Police and the FBI closed off the streets around the pond and made contact with Watson.

The farmer claimed to have bombs made of ammonium nitrate, an ingredient used in fertilizer and explosives like the one that Timothy McVeigh used to attack the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

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