DC

Filed Under:DC

Fire and Rain: The Storm That Changed D.C. History

British soldiers set fire to Washington on August 24, 1814, prior to the worst storm that had been seen in Washington for years. (Image source: National Archives and Records Administration, College Park)

D.C. has had more than its fair share of extreme weather lately, setting records for the highest number of days over 90 degrees and the most rainfall ever recorded in a single day, as well as being the site of a toothier type of storm. One day in 1814, however, combined all three - extreme heat, rainfall, and wind - surprisingly, somewhat to the District's advantage.

On August 24, 1814, for the first and only time in our country’s history, Washington, D.C. was overrun by an invading army. The British army had easily defeated inexperienced American defenders, and set the city ablaze. The President had fled to Brookeville, MD, and many of the citizens had fled along with the army. Those few residents of the capital who hadn’t already fled may well have prayed for anything that could stop the flames. What they got, however, was something far more than they were hoping for: a "tornado" more powerful than any storm in living memory.

Filed Under:DC

Mussolini’s Mysterious Stay at St. Elizabeths

Mussolini in 1940. (Photo source: Library of Congress)Mussolini in 1940. (Photo source: Library of Congress) St. Elizabeths Hospital has had its fair share of infamous patients. Would-be Presidential assassins Richard Lawrence and John Hinckley, silent film actress Mary Fuller, and “The Shotgun Stalker” James Swann have all called the psychiatric hospital home. But the building has also had some lesser-known, but equally significant, guests – or at least parts of them. St. Elizabeths quite literally got a piece of Benito Mussolini’s mind when sections of his brain were sent there for research in 1945.That’s right: as literary great Ezra Pound spent time in the Chestnut Ward, a portion of his fascist idol was just next door. And while Pound left after twelve years, the brain remained, shrouded in obscurity, until its eventual disappearance more than twenty years later.

Let’s go back to April of 1945. It was the final year of World War II, and things weren’t going well for Il Duce. Allied forces were invading Italy, and as he attempted to flee, Mussolini was captured by Communist partisans near Lake Como. There, he was executed with his mistress, Clara Petacci, and taken to Piazzale Loreto in Milan.

Filed Under:DC

Cooling Off in the Tidal Basin

Swimmers of all ages enjoy the Tidal Basin Bathing Beach in 1922. (Photo source: Library of Congress)Swimmers of all ages enjoy the Tidal Basin Bathing Beach in 1922. (Photo source: Library of Congress) The National Building Museum’s new indoor beach may be making headlines, but it’s not D.C.’s first seashore. For a period of time between 1918 and 1925, Washingtonians dipped into the Tidal Basin to experience some summertime heat relief. Now I know what you’re thinking: you couldn’t pay me to swim in that water today. But with a serious lack of public pools, and no air conditioning, citizens back then were pretty desperate. We look into it more below the cut.

Filed Under:DC

Julius Hobson Gets Out of the Rat Race

Hobson with his station wagon and trademark pipe and fedora, ready to harangue the multitudes. (Source: Evening Star)

Despite recent events at the National Zoo, scares about escaped rodents in Washington are nothing new, and since this is Washington, these scares have sometimes had a political bent.

If you lived in DC in August of 1964, you might have seen Julius Hobson driving through downtown with a cage full of enormous rats strapped to the roof of his station wagon. Frustrated by the city government’s refusal to do anything about the rat problem in Northeast and Southeast DC, and about the District’s more affluent citizens’ apathy about the issue, he said that if Southeast was having this problem, then Georgetown should share it too. Hobson caught “possum-sized rats” in Shaw and Northeast, and transported them up to Georgetown, promising to release the cage full of rats in the middle of the wealthy district unless the city government acted to curb the epidemic. Since he was, as a piece in The Washingtonian put it, “[a]ware that a DC problem usually is not a problem until it is a white problem,” he decided to go ahead and make it a white problem.

Filed Under:DC

A Place for the Poor: Resurrection City

Resurrection City spent six muddy weeks on the National Mall, within view of landmarks such as the Capitol. (Photo source: Wikipedia Commons)Resurrection City spent six muddy weeks on the National Mall, within view of landmarks such as the Capitol. (Photo source: Wikipedia Commons) In the early morning hours of June 23, 1968, thick clouds of tear gas rolled through a multitude of shacks on the National Mall.  This shantytown was Resurrection City, and its residents were the nation’s poor. As many ran from their shelters, they saw Martin Luther King, Jr.’s final dream of economic equality withering in the gas. They had been citizens of the city for six weeks, all the while campaigning for rights for the poor around D.C. Now their work seemed all for naught. After an increase in violence and with an expiring living permit, the police had come to chase them out. Children were crying, adults screaming, and some were even vomiting. But amid the chaos, a song rang out: “we shall overcome.”

Filed Under:DC

"Get down, you fool!": Lincoln's Scare at Fort Stevens

In 1920, veterans of the Battle of Fort Stevens erected a stone marker paying tribute to President Lincoln's presence at the battle. (Photo source: National Park Service) This weekend marks a special anniversary: the only time a sitting U.S. President came under enemy fire. It happened right here in Washington -- at Fort Stevens -- when Confederates under Lt. Gen. Jubal Early advanced on the fort while President Lincoln was there.

Friend of the Blog and Tenleytown, D.C. native Jim Corbley recounts the harrowing incident -- which included some terse words for the President from his aide-de-camp, future Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes -- in this special guest post.

Filed Under:DC

Free Local History Talks at D.C. Library Branches

Okay, we admit it. Here at Boundary Stones headquarters we are nerds and we get really excited when we hear about free history talks and lectures. It's like school for adults.

So, as you can imagine, we are very pumped about the D.C. Library's schedule of events for this summer. As part of its summer reading program, DCPL is sponsoring a number of different lectures at library branches all over the city. Topics include everything from D.C.'s African American WWI doughboys to the Underground Railroad to Carter G. Woodson and more.

See the full list after the jump!

Filed Under:DC

Bread Kneaded on Capitol Hill

The Capitol's grand Civil War bakery occupied the majority of the building's large basement. (Photo Source: Architect of the Capitol)The Capitol's grand Civil War bakery occupied the majority of the building's large basement. (Photo Source: Architect of the Capitol) As congressmen convened for a special session in July of 1861, they were welcomed into the Capitol by the smell of baking bread. Just months into the Civil War, the building had already seen thousands of troops pass through its doors, and now it was the site of one of the largest bakeries the world had ever known. Twenty ovens, each with the capacity of holding hundreds of loaves of bread, were housed in the basement, and multitudes of men spent hours tending yeast and kneading dough. Having been in recess for less than four months, the congressmen were astounded, and some even annoyed, with this new mammoth bakery occupying their space. But a lot had changed for the country – and for the Capitol – in that short period of time.

Filed Under:DC

"Jack the Slasher" Terrorizes Washington

The Slasher in his mug shot. (Photo Source: Historical Society of Washington, D.C.)The Slasher in his mug shot. (Photo Source: Historical Society of Washington, D.C.)

In the winter months of 1893-1894, D.C. area folks were plagued with fear of a mysterious man dubbed “Jack the Slasher.” Nicknamed after London’s infamous “Jack the Ripper” of 1888, this Jack silently entered homes at night and left just as stealthily as he came, leaving a violent mess behind him.  Police were perplexed, women and children terrified, and men poured money into the protection of their houses. But before you start thinking the worst, know that he wasn’t that kind of slasher. Rather than human flesh, the target of his knife was textiles. He cut up furniture, clothing, carpets and anything he could get his hands on, while taking little for himself. Why? Even after he was caught, no one was able to ascertain a real motive.

Jack’s robberies started in October of 1893 at the home of Nick Young, President of the National Baseball League, in Mount Pleasant. He entered by cutting the slats of the shutters and sliding through a back window while the house was sleeping. Young woke to his residence in chaos: “the bric-a-brac and furniture therein [were] almost completely destroyed… The walls and pictures were besmeared with mud, while chairs and carpets were cut with a keen knife.” When police were called to the scene of the crime, they were mystified, remarking they had never seen anything like it. And Jack was just beginning.

Filed Under:DC, Virginia

The Pentagon Goes Up in Flames, 1959

Smoke rises from the Pentagon on July 2, 1959. (Photo source: Arlington Fire Journal blog)The call came in to the Arlington County Fire Department at 11:16am on July 2, 1959… The Pentagon was on fire.

ACFD units raced to the scene, soon to be joined by deployments from 34 other jurisdictions including Falls Church, Alexandria, Fort Myer, the District, Prince Georges County, Bethesda and the Inter-Agency Government Pool — over 300 firefighters in all.

When trucks reached the scene, black smoke hung over the building, so thick that they had to form a human chain in order to navigate. Firemen groped, clawed and cut their way to the blaze, which had erupted in the Air Force statistical services offices between rings C and D and corridors 1 and 10.

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