Filed Under:DC, Virginia

Eleanor Roosevelt and the Bonus Marchers

Bonus marchers tussle with local police at their campsite in 1932. Credit: National ArchivesIn 1932, as the nation lingered in the desperate depths of the Great Depression, thousands of World War I veterans and their families marched on Washington to demand immediate lump-sum payment of their military pensions. To the consternation of President Herbert Hoover, who was about to embark upon a difficult reelection campaign, the ragtag army camped in tents and shacks along the Anacostia River, and began trying to pressure the White House and Congress by marching up and down Pennsylvania Avenue. Unfortunately, the bill to pay them their benefits passed the House but was overwhelmingly defeated in the Senate in June.

The marchers stubbornly stayed, and rebuffed the Hoover administration's offer of train fare out of town. In response, Hoover decided to evict them by force. On July 28, in one of the most disturbing moments in the history of Washington, U.S. horse cavalry wearing gas masks and steel helmets, and backed by five tanks, descended upon the bonus marchers, scattering them and their wives and children and burning their campsites. 

Filed Under:DC, Virginia

Arlington’s Roberta Flack Gets Her Start at Mr. Henry’s

Born in Asheville, North Carolina, Roberta Flack started playing the piano at an early age. When she was five, her family moved to the Nauck community in Arlington and she took up the organ, lending her musical talents to Macedonia Baptist Church. At 15, she entered Howard University with a full music scholarship and, by 19, she was a college graduate seeking.

She accepted a position in a segregated school district in Farmville, North Carolina and wound up being the only music teacher for 1300 students, kindergarten through 12th grade. “I lost 40 pounds and almost had a nervous breakdown but we did some beautiful things that year.”[1]

Flack returned to Washington and taught at Rabaut Junior High School and Brown Junior High School. In the evenings, she started performing – first at the Tivoli Theatre in Columbia Heights and then at Mr. Henry’s, a Capitol Hill nightclub at 6th and Pennsylvania Ave, SE, which was owned by Henry Yaffe.

Filed Under:DC

When the Washington Monument Suffered from "Geological Tuberculosis"

The unfinished Washington Monument, circa 1860. Source: Library of CongressThe Washington Monument reopened this spring, after being closed for repairs needed to repair damage suffered during an earthquake three years ago this week. The latter included cracks that developed in the monument's marble panels and damage to the mortar that holds the approminately 555-foot-tall structure together.

But those problems aren't the first woes that have plagued the monument, which will mark the 130th anniverary of its completion in December. Back in 1911, for example, some believed that monument was afflicted with an even more peculiar problem, trumpeted in a December 1911 article in Popular Mechanics magazine by John S. Mosby, Jr., which bore the provocative title: Washington Monument Attacked by 'Geological Tuberculosis.'" Mosley wrote that the monument "is suffering from a disintegration that, while not immediately fatal, will materially shorten its life."

Filed Under:DC

D.C.'s Illustrious Brewing Past and Present

It's D.C. Beer Week, the annual "celebration of good beer in the National Capital Region from conception to consumption and everyone and everything in between." The fact that (1) such a celebration exists and (2) there are events all over town; is an indication of Washington's growing reputation for quality suds. Indeed, the last few years have seen a huge increase in the number of local breweries and they are doing some very interesting things with America's favorite alcoholic beverage.

Needless to say, the scene hasn't always been so bustling, and we wanted to learn more about the history of brewing in our fair city. So, we sat down with two people who should know: beer historian Garrett Peck, author of Capital Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in Washington, D.C. (available at Amazon.com and fine booksellers everywhere) and Kristi Griner, head brewer at Capital City Brewing Company.

Filed Under:DC

Robin Williams Crashes the D.C. Improv, 1996

Robin Williams and Steve Wonder at Democratic Party fundraiser in Washington, May 8, 1996. (Source: Getty)

As the world mourns the passing of actor-comedian Robin Williams, we thought we'd turn back the clock to happier times.

In May of 1996, the Democratic National Committee invited Williams to D.C. to perform at a party fundraiser at the old Washington Convention Center. The event was scheduled for Wednesday, May 8, but Mork came to town a day early. After dinner with Vice President Gore, the comedian made his way over to the D.C. Improv on Connecticut Ave. where he surprised the audience -- and perhaps the previously scheduled acts -- with a late-night stand up routine. As would-be headliner Tom Kenny said jokingly, movie star Williams "got off his big bag of money" to swing by the club and get some attention from a real, live audience.

Filed Under:DC

The Scurlocks Photograph Washington's Secret City

Addison Scurlock dressed in a suit and tie whenever he held a camera. Confident and serious about his work and his appearance, he presented himself to the world the same way that he presented his subjects.

Scurlock was only 17 when he moved to Washington and listed “photographer” as his profession in the 1900 census. He apprenticed with a white photographer for three years before opening his own studio in his parents’ house. By 1911 he had a studio in northwest Washington, and soon he had two apprentices of his own: his sons, Robert and George. As adults, they joined him in the photography business. 

“I would describe my father as very intense, in all of his endeavors,” Robert Scurlock said in a 2003 interview. “He had a lot of drive to him. If he saw something he wanted to explore, he would find all means of doing it.”

Filed Under:DC

'The real war will never get in the books'

When Walt Whitman first rushed to Washington in the winter of 1862, the trip had nothing to do with poetry.

It was Dec. 16 — nearly two years into the Civil War and seven years into Whitman’s poetry career — when the New York Herald listed a “First Lieutenant G.W. Whitmore” among the troops killed or wounded in Fredericksburg, Va. The misspelled listing was referring to George Whitman, Walt’s brother, who had enlisted in the Union Army in 1861.

Walt left immediately to search Washington’s hospitals. The poet would stay in the city for the next 11 years.

Filed Under:DC

Forgotten Greatness: The Washington Bears Basketball Team

The history of the Bears can be traced back to the D.C.’s journalism pioneer Harold “Hal” Jackson. In 1939, Jackson began broadcasting Howard University’s home baseball games and the Negro League baseball team, The Homestead Grays. In 1941, Jackson used his popularity and sports business savvy to organize a new all-black basketball team in the District.

Filed Under:Virginia

Meeting the Community's Needs: Arlington’s Friendly Cab Company

Friendly Cab Company's Charles Collins (right) identified a need in the Nauck/Green Valley community. (Source: Collins family photo)In the 1940s, Jim Crow held strong in Arlington, Virginia. African-Americans encountered discrimination at segregated eating establishments, businesses and recreation facilities. Even access to medical care was divided along racial lines.

African American mothers were barred from the maternity ward at Arlington Hospital and were expected to travel to hospitals in Washington, D.C. or Alexandria to give birth. For many black Arlingtonians, getting to D.C. was difficult – especially in a medical emergency – as many could not afford cars of their own.

In 1947, three men with bright ideas and business ingenuity stepped up to fill the void.

Filed Under:DC

How Hoover--No, Not That Hoover!--Got Al Capone

The nation's 31st President, as it turns out, was the man who proved to be Al Capone's worst enemy. Credit: Library of CongressYears after the 1931 federal conviction for tax evasion that put Al "Scarface" Capone in prison and ended his career as Chicago's most feared mobster, he was known to complain bitterly about the man whose vendetta, in Capone's view, had put him behind bars. "That bastard Hoover," Capone would rant. But he suprisingly, he wasn't talking about FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who, despite his heavily-hyped reputation as a gangster nemesis, had little to do with Capone's demise. 

Instead, Capone saw his true mortal enemy as President Herbert Hoover. And unlike most of the people who harbor grudges against Presidents, Capone actually was right. 

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