DC

Books You Should Read: Alexander Shepherd Biography by John Richardson

For John Richardson, Washington’s influential territorial governor, Alexander Robey “Boss” Shepherd, has been a source of fascination for over 30 years, since the author moved into D.C.’s Shepherd Park neighborhood. Balancing this curiosity with a day job in the CIA and stints overseas meant that progress on the book was slower than Richardson intended. But, the result of his labors is worth the wait for local history enthusiasts. Richardson’s recently published biography, Alexander Robey Shepherd: The Man Who Built the Nation’s Capital (Ohio University Press, 2016) is a thoroughly researched and well written study of a man who, despite his enormous impact on the District of Columbia, has not gotten the attention he deserves from scholars. Check out our video with the author!

Filene Center in 1980. (Source: Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

Wolf Trap Captures the Hearts of the DMV

Today, Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts is a mainstay of Washington, D.C.’s cultural life. The park’s large outdoor auditorium and beautiful green space play host to a variety of performers. However, 50 years ago, some politicians questioned whether it was a wise decision for the government to accept the land gift from Catherine Filene Shouse and build the performing arts center.

1884: The Year of Two Nationals

1888 Washington Nationals Baseball Club (Source: Wikipedia)

Over the years, Washington, D.C. has been home to numerous professional baseball teams, very few of them with winning records. But, 1884 might take the cake for weirdness. That year, the nation's capital boasted two separate teams called the Washington Nationals. They finished a combined 59-116.

Elizabeth Smith Friedman Photograph (Source: National Security Administration)

Elizebeth Friedman: Coast Guard Code Breaker

By the end of her life, Elizebeth Smith Friedman was renowned for her work deciphering codes from civilian criminals. She cracked the codes that sent members of what one prosecutor called “the most powerful international smuggling syndicate in existence” to jail, took down a Vancouver opium ring, and caught a World War II Japanese spy.

Exploring Local African American History Beyond the New Smithsonian Museum

Exterior of the Anacostia Neighborhood/Community Museum (Source: Smithsonian Institution)

If you live in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and you are interested in visiting the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) but have not secured tickets yet, this might be a great time to explore the many African American history focused museums, cultural centers and historic houses in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia.

Broadhead-Bell-Morton Mansion. (Source: National Register of Historic Places)

D.C.'s Ill-Fated Wedding of the Decade, 1903

For Washington socialites, the most anticipated event of the winter season arrived on January 19, 1903. The rooms of the Russian embassy were full to bursting with the best of the Capital. The entire diplomatic corps, the Cabinet, and the Supreme Court were in attendance. While downstairs guests were being shown to their places, the crying bride was being dressed in her finery upstairs. The Parisian gown was made of white satin and gold brocade, and just dripping with pearls. A mantel of lace fell from her shoulders, over a full court train, and a “misty veil of tulle” was fastened to her head with a coronet of orange blossoms. A wedding gift from the groom, a magnificent diamond collar with ruby clasps, encircled Irene des Planques neck. It might as well have been a noose.

High society ladies at 1904 Bazaar to benefit the Russian Red Cross.

D.C.'s 1904 Russian Bazaar

“Don’t you know there’s a war on?” That’s the usual refrain when your country is at war. But for Countess Marguerite Cassini, daughter of the Russian ambassador to Washington, the 1904-1905 war between Russia and Japan was a reason to have a two-day party. And if you say it’s for charity, why not?

Portrait of Marguerite Cassini by Frances Benjamin Johnston. (Source: Library of Congress)

Countess Marguerite Cassini: D.C.'s Diplomatic Social Butterfly

When Countess Marguerite Cassini first arrived in DC in 1898 during the McKinley administration, she accompanied the first Russian Ambassador to America, Count Arthur Cassini, as his 16-year-old “niece.” An air of mystery shrouded her origins, but as the oldest female relative of the ambassador, the “Countess” was the embassy’s official hostess. At state functions, she would be seated in the proper place for the Russian hostess -- at the top right below the British, French, and German hostesses. The wives of the diplomatic corps bristled to be placed beneath an unmarried teenager, who was thought to be “neither a [countess] nor, according to rumor, a Cassini.” To be fair, the Capital gossip wasn’t entirely wrong; young Marguerite wasn’t a countess, and the count was not her uncle. He was her father. But questions over her roots soon gave way to amazement over the Countess's command of the D.C. social scene, which she effectively ruled along with Alice Roosevelt.

Pages