Filed Under:DC

First Statue Representing D.C. Unveiled in U.S. Capitol

It was a long wait for sculptors and local politicians.

Since 2008, a seven-foot tall, 1,700 pound bronze statue of abolitionist Frederick Douglass stood in the lobby of a building called One Judiciary Square. It remained there for five years while Washington officials fought to move it to another building less than a mile down the road: the U.S. Capitol. 

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the unveiling of Douglass’ statue in the Capitol Visitor Center’s Emancipation Hall. The ceremony was the culmination of a fight spanning over a decade. 

Filed Under:Maryland

Remembering Len Bias

Len Bias was one of the best basketball players ever to play at Maryland but he died of a drug overdose before playing a game in the NBA. (Photo source: AP)The court was closed off to students like it always was after basketball season was over. A sign over the floor read “Keep Off” and there was a still darkness inside of Cole Field House.

Students sat quietly in the top rows of the yellow seats in the arena, thinking, wondering. While some stared down at the court with wide eyes, others leaned back in their seats with their eyes closed.

Raw emotion spread across the arena as they came to remember the Maryland Terrapin legend, Len Bias.

Just a few days before, Bias had been on top of the world, the second pick in the NBA draft by the famed Boston Celtics.

Filed Under:DC

The Night 'West Side Story' Opened in Washington

Bernstein exits The National Theatre after the premiere of West Side Story.When West Side Story premiered in the summer of 1957, Felicia Montealegre wanted to be in Washington.

Felicia, wife of composer Leonard Bernstein, had come down with the flu while on a trip to Chile and was missing the August 19 premiere of Bernstein’s show at The National Theatre. A contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet that takes place in New York’s Upper West Side, the show was scheduled to open in Washington for a three-week pre-Broadway tryout.

"Well, look-a me. Back to the nation’s capitol, & right on the verge,” Bernstein wrote to Felicia days before the premiere. “This is Thurs. We open Mon. Everyone’s coming, my dear, even Nixon and 35 admirals. Senators abounding, & big Washington-hostessy type party afterwards.”

Filed Under:DC

The World Cup is in Brazil, but the Bossa Nova Craze Started in DC

The recording session for the "Jazz Samba" LP. Credit: Felix Grant Archives at UDC/Felix Grant Archives at UDCBrazil, the site of this month's FIFA World Cup, is known for transforming the game of soccer with the free-wheeling offensive style that its great players pioneered. But Brazil also has another creative export that's nearly as famous as soccer virtuosos Pele or Ronaldo — bossa nova, a hybrid of jazz and Brazil's own African-influenced Samba music. Oddly, though, it was an album recorded in Washington, DC in February 1962, that helped popularize bossa nova as an international sensation.

Filed Under:DC, Virginia

DC Hosts the Civil War of Horse Racing, 1822

Racetrack with horses and spectators. (Photo source: Library of Congress)In the 19th century, the North and South waged an important battle. No, not the Civil War- horse racing! Before the war between the states with military and espionage there was a stirring contest fought with the finest horses that either side could breed, and the first battle took place right in the heart of Washington D.C., at the National Course somewhere around 14th Street, north of Euclid Street and south of Columbia Heights.

Filed Under:DC

New Rescue Project Underway to Save Washington's Only Known Synagogue Mural

Remnant of mural with added lion. Image by Patricia Fisher, Fisher Photography, 2014.Twenty-one years ago, homeowner Stephanie Slewka made a fascinating discovery on the second floor of her 19th century townhouse at 415 M Street, NW: a mural concealed beneath layers of paint and wallpaper.  As if peeling back layers of time, she found one of the only remaining traces of Shomrei Shabbos, a small orthodox community in downtown Washington that worshiped in the townhouse. The nearly 90-year-old mural was the upper portion of a larger piece that had surrounded the synagogue’s ark on the floor below. 

Decades later, that same mural is in danger. Plans to convert the building into condominiums threaten the survival of this unique piece of Washington Jewish history.

Thanks to Samantha Bass and Zachary Paul Levine of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington for the guest post!

Filed Under:DC

Washington's Dead Letter Office

The Washington Dead Letter Office in the 1860s, from a Harper's Weekly engraving by Theodore R. Davis. Credit: Wikimedia CommonsIn Herman Melville's classic 1853 short story, "Bartleby the Scrivener," the narrator offers a curious explanation for the self-destructive melancholy of the main character.

The report was this: that Bartleby had been a subordinate clerk in the Dead Letter Office at Washington, from which he had been suddenly removed by a change in the administration. When I think over this rumor, I cannot adequately express the emotions which seize me. Dead letters! does it not sound like dead men?

The "Dead Letter Office at Washington" might sound like a clever literary invention, but as it turns out, there actually once was such an institution, which existed to process mail that was either mis-addressed or undeliverable for a variety of other reasons. According to the official history of the U.S. Postal Service, the Continental Congress actually authorized appointment of an inspector of dead letters back in 1777, and there was a central office in the District at least as far back as 1830, according to an article by Wesleyan University historian Courtney Fullilove, who found a box of records in the National Archives that still contained four undelivered letters from 1889.

Filed Under:DC

Sunday Baseball Comes to D.C., 1918

Clark Griffith c. 1903 (Source: Wikipedia)Spending a Sunday afternoon at the ol’ ballpark is pretty commonplace nowadays. But 100 years ago? Notsomuch.

In the early 1900s, debate raged about whether it was appropriate – or, for that matter, legal – for ballclubs to suit up on Sundays. Blue laws in many states put severe restrictions on what could and could not be done/consumed/enjoyed/observed on the traditional day of rest.

In the District, regulations stipulated that “no public exhibition of any entertainment, play, opera, circus, animals, gymnastics, game, dance or dances, or vaudeville performance of any kind, except the exhibition of moving or other pictures, vocal or instrumental concerts, artist or artists, not in character costume, lectures, and speeches” could take place on Sunday.

Filed Under:DC

Petey Greene Talks Down the Riots, 1968

Photo of Petey Greene (Wikipedia)“God gave me a talent, and that talent was verbal skills”. Critically acclaimed as America’s first “shock jock,” Petey Greene had the mouth and charisma to roar in the ears of people in the streets of Washington, D.C. His impact was no more apparent than in August of 1968 during the aftermath of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination.

Running down the streets outraged, a group of about thirty young people burst into a drug store. “Martin Luther King is dead,” they shouted. “Close the store down!”. 26-year old Stokely Carmichael, former chairman of the SNNC and the initiator of the what became the “Black Power Movement” in 1967, led Washington, D.C. civilians down the streets demanding that all businesses close out of respect of the death of King.

Although the initial goal was to maintain peace, things quickly went out of Carmichael’s hands. Emotions boiled and violence broke out.  

Filed Under:DC

The Movie That JFK Wanted Made, But Didn't Live to See

Seven Days in May poster.It was July 1963, and on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, a brutal melee suddenly erupted between rival groups of pickets who were on opposite sides of a proposed nuclear test-ban treaty. As Washington Post reporter Stephen C. Rogers described the scene, the protesters began "slugging, kicking and gouging" one another, until baton-wielding policemen waded into the fray to separate them.

As the officers dragged the most vociferous brawlers away, a man in a bright-blue baseball cap suddenly stood up in the center of the confrontation. "All right! All right! All right!" he shouted, and the fighting abruptly stopped.

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