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.

Filed Under:Virginia

Arlington's Little Saigon

Tonight at 7pm the Arlington Historical Society is holding it's monthly public program at Central Library. Preservation writer Kim O'Connell will be speaking about Arlington's Little Saigon community, which flourished in Clarendon during the 1970s and '80s. Kim and Richard Nguyen, the General Manager of Nam Viet Restaurant, were kind enough to give Boundary Stones a preview. Check out the video below!

Filed Under:DC

Ezra Pound's Stay at St. Elizabeths

Ezra Pound mugshotEzra Pound was an acclaimed writer who was a central figure in the modernist movement, editing T.S. Eliot’s landmark poem The Waste Land and helping to get other modern writers published, including Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce. When Pound lived in D.C. for twelve years after World War II, you might assume that he called a literary haven or Capitol Hill row house home, but that is far from the case.

Pound was actually a patient at St. Elizabeths hospital, Washington's foremost mental institution even though the doctor's who assessed him found him to be of a sane condition.

How did that happen? Glad you asked. It's a pretty interesting story.

Filed Under:DC

DC Was a Busy Place for Women in April 1922

Lady Nancy Astor was as native Virginian who was the first woman to hold a seat in the British Parliament. (Photo source: Wikipedia)April 1922 was a busy time for Washington socialites and the newspapers that followed them, as the city hosted no less than five national and international women’s groups in the span of a few short weeks.

DC had long been a party town (pun intended) but these gatherings provide a glimpse of the changing dynamics of womens’ political involvement during the 1920s, immediately following the passage of the nineteenth amendment. Let’s take a look at some highlights.

Filed Under:DC

Muhammad Ali's Speech at Howard University, 1967

Muhammad Ali in 1967 (World Journal Tribune photo by Ira Rosenberg, Library of Congress)The PBS documentary The Trials of Muhammad Ali, which airs on WETA on Monday, April 14, 2014 at 10 p.m., covers the boxing champ's struggles outside the ring during the tumultuous mid-1960s, when his refusal to serve in the military during the Vietnam War led to him being stripped of his title, and nearly cost him his freedom. The program also explores Ali's involvement in the Black Power movement of the 1960s, and his emergence as a symbol of protest and dissent for young people of that time. 

Ali's duality as a firebrand activist and a revolutionary icon is examplified, in some ways, by his controversial appearance at Howard University in April 22, 1967, where he gave a speech to African-American students just days before he refused induction in the armed forces, which led to his indictment and conviction for draft evasion. 

Filed Under:DC

Japanese Cherry Blossoms Almost Didn't Make It to DC

Photographers shooting cherry blossoms, Washington, D.C., April 7, 1922 (Library of Congress)Tourists often try to time their visits to Washington to coincide with the annual blooming of its famous cherry blossom trees along the Tidal Basin in April, and inevitably, someone tells them that the trees originally came from Japan as a gesture of international friendship.

But the complete story is a bit more complicated, and includes plenty of odd twists and turns.

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