DC

Richard Nixon shaking hands with Reverend Sun Myung Moon

A Watergate Christmas Tree Lighting

The  first National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony took place in 1923. The ceremony was intended to foster a sense of national unity around the Holiday season, but 1973 was different. President Nixon, embroiled in the Watergate scandal and dealing with an energy crisis, used the ceremony as a platform for political theater. As the President talked up his adminstration's achievements and legislative agenda for the coming year, an impromtu political rally in support of the President broke out.

Not only were the President's remarks different in nature, the tree was as well. As Americans across the country had to tighten their belts with regards to energy, the energy crisis prompted organizers to significantly reduce the amount of lights upon the tree itself as well as begin a new tradition of using a living, rather than cut, National Christmas Tree.

Women playing Mah Jongg in Washington, December 30, 1922. (Source: National Photo Company Collection, Library of Congress)

Before Pokemon Go There Was Mah Jongg

"Having once acquired the taste for playing, a frenzy creeps over one and you seek opportunities for playing the game like a thirsty man…. Time means nothing…. midnight passes by unnoticed."

The symptoms sound familiar. But, nearly 100 years before anyone dreamed up Pokemon Go – or smart phones for that matter – another craze was taking D.C. by storm: Mah Jongg.

Grace Slick (Source: Wikipedia)

That Time Grace Slick Tried to Slip LSD to President Nixon

Nixon, a career politician known for his rather stilted mannerisms and stoic demeanor, was seen as humorless and uncaring by the counterculture. As a result, he was the butt of many jokes. Some of the nation’s counterculture writers and artists mused what it would be like if Nixon ever took LSD. Jefferson Airplane's Grace Slick took it upon herself to find out when Nixon's daughter, Tricia, invited her to a tea party at the White House in 1970.

The Alexandria Retrocession of 1846

1835 map of the District of Columbia.

We have the states of Maryland and Virginia to thank for the land that created the nation’s capital and the greater District of Columbia. It was through their cession of territory via the Residence Act of 1790 that Congress was able to establish a permanent home for a federal government that was up to that point rather itinerant. The 100-square-mile block called for by Congress that would constitute the District was made up of 69 square miles of territory from Maryland and another 31 square miles from Virginia. The District, which was organized by the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1801, organized the territory and officially placed it under the control of Congress. The bill was enacted on February 27, 1801, and almost from the moment of its passage, Virginia was looking for a way to get its territory back.

Anna J. Cooper (Source: Wikipedia)

Dr. Anna J. Cooper: MVP of D.C. Education

In the early 1900s, Dr. Anna J. Cooper, eschewed inherently racist notions that education for African American students should be solely vocational. Pursuing more classical studies, she pushed her students toward some of the best colleges and universities in the country, but her dedication raised the ire of the D.C. Board of Education.

Baltimore & Pennsylvania Railroad station. (Source: National Gallery of Art archives)

The Short-Lived Baltimore & Potomac Railroad Station on the National Mall

It may be hard to picture now, but the National Mall was once home to a lot of commercial and industrial development. Perhaps the most notable -- if also maligned -- site was a railroad station belonging to the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad. The station itself embraced a Gothic architectural style, but the train shed that extended from the station was considered an eyesore. It proved to be one (of many) motivations behind the 1901 McMillan plan to beautify and renovate America's front yard.

Lobbying at the Willard Hotel

Willard Hotel lobby in 1901 (Photo source: Library of Congress)

Washington, D.C. is a city rich in history with many stories to tell. Inevitably some of those stories take on a life of their own, even if the facts don’t necessarily back them up. For example, the story that the term “lobbyist” was created by President Ulysses S. Grant to describe the flocks of favor-seekers he encountered during his frequent sojourns to the lobby of the Willard Hotel.

Helen Hayes as Queen Victoria in 1936 (Source: Performing Arts Archives)

How Helen Hayes Helped Desegregate the National Theatre

There are two things that all D.C. residents love: the first lady and the performing arts. It’s no surprise then that in the capital, “First Lady of American Theatre” Helen Hayes is an icon. Born in 1900 in Washington D.C., Hayes’s career spanned nearly eighty years. She was the first EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony) recipient to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Ronald Reagan in 1986. But out of all her accomplishments, perhaps one of the most overlooked is Helen Hayes’s involvement in the desegregation of the National Theatre.   

Cissy Patterson (Source: Library of Congress)

Cissy Patterson: The First Lady of the D.C. Press

Born into wealth and privilege, no one can say Cissy Patterson started at the bottom, but she definitely ended up at the top of Washington's social scene in the 1930s. As the owner of the most popular newspaper in the city, Patterson defined who was who in D.C., sensationalizing political feuds in print and throwing elaborate parties at her Dupont Circle mansion. But despite being the brightest star in the sky, she was anything but universally beloved. Just ask her daughter, Felicia.

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