Filed Under:Virginia

The Strange Arlington Saga of Ignacy Jan Paderewski

Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Polish hero buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Credit: Wikimedia CommonsTonight at 8pm WETA TV 26 and WETA HD premiere a new local documentary, Arlington National Cemetery. It's a poignant look at one of our nation's most hallowed grounds and offers a inside view of the cemetery's operations and history. But, since it's impossible to include everything in a one-hour documentary, we've been looking for other interesting Arlington stories to explore here on the blog.

So, along those lines, allow us to introduce you to one of Poland's greatest heroes, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, who took a hiatus from his career as a world-renowned pianist and composer to serve as that nation's first Prime Minister. What does this have to do with Arlington? Find out after the jump.

Filed Under:Virginia

Civil War Healing at Arlington National Cemetery

In June 1914, thousands celebrated the unveiling of a special memorial at Arlington Cemetery. (Photo source: Library of Congress) WETA Television's new documentary, Arlington National Cemetery (which premieres tomorrow night!) has inspired us to do some digging on cemetery history. Here's the background behind one of Arlington's most meaningful memorials.

On a warm, sunny day in June of 1914, a crowd gathered to witness the unveiling of what The Washington Post described as “a memorial of heroic size, commemorating war, but dedicated to peace.” It was an intricately designed, 32-foot tall granite monument deeply embedded with symbolic meaning for visitors to decode. A large statue of a woman facing southward dominated the top of the monument. In her extended arm was a laurel wreath meant to represent the sacrifices of fallen soldiers. Below her, a Biblical passage was inscribed, near four urns that symbolize the four years of the Civil War, and fourteen shields. Closer to the monument’s base are thirty-two life-sized figures, including Southerners of varying military branch, race, gender, occupation, and age, along with mythological characters such as Minerva, Goddess of War.[1]

So what was this new monument and why were so many people clamoring to see it?

Filed Under:Virginia

Arlington's First Official Unknown Soldier

Burial of the first official unknown soldier from World War I, on Nov. 11, 1921. Credit: U.S. ArmyAt Arlington National Cemetery, the subject of a new WETA program that premieres Feb. 5 at 8 p.m., one of the most haunting features is the Tomb of the Unknowns, also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

On the rear of the monument, there's a haunting inscription: Here rests in honored glory, an American soldier known but to God.

But the story of how the first official unknown soldier from World War I was selected for burial in the graves alongside the monument is a strange one. For one, he wasn't actually the first unidentified casualty to be entombed at Arlington.

Filed Under:DC

Pete Seeger in Washington

Pete Seeger performing at a party at the Congress of Industrial Organizations canteen in Washington DC in 1944, as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt looks on. Credit: Library of Congress. Pete Seeger, the folk music legend who passed away on Jan. 27 at age 94 in New York City, was a performer whose art was intertwined in close harmony with a slew of social causes, ranging from civil rights and the organized labor movement to environmentalism. As he once wrote, "Music, as any art, is not an end in itself, but is a means for achieving larger ends." While Seeger lived most of his life in upstate New York, Seeger's twin passions for music and activism often brought him to Washington, where his calm eloquence and forthrightness gave him influence in the White House — and also subjected him to peril. 

Filed Under:DC

The Demise of DC's Streetcars

A streetcar in front of the U.S. Capitol. Credit: Theodor Horydczak, Library of CongressFor those of us who are nostalgic or liked to play with model trains when we were kids, today marks a rather inauspicious anniversary. 52 years ago, on January 28, 1962, Washington's original streetcar system road the rails for the final time. That last run ended 99 and a half years of service to the nation's capital as buses replaced the trolleys as the primary means of mass transit in the District. So, how did we get to that point?

After going electric in the last decade of the 19th Century, the streetcars quickly became a crucial part of transportation in the nation's capital, just as they were in other cities across the country. But Washington's system--which gradually coalesced from a hodgepodge of small companies into a single entity, the sprawling Capital Transit Co. in 1933--faced special problems.

Filed Under:DC

DC's Once Grand Streetcar System

Workers repair streetcar tracks at 14th and G Streets NW in 1941. Source: Library of CongressMany U.S. cities--including Washington--are now looking again to a late 19th-century transportation technology, the electric streetcar, as a tool to help revitalize business and entertainment districts and attract young professionals and empty nesters to consider urban living. Here in DC, the District Department of Transportation says it is in the finishing stages of completing a new line along H Street and Benning Road NE, which eventually will form part of a new DC Streetcar system with eight lines and 37 miles of track, which will serve all of the District's eight wards.

That makes it a good time to look back at the history of Washington's once-grand system of electric streetcars.

Filed Under:DC

Save the Suitcases! The Willard Hotel Fire of 1922

The recently renovated ballroom of the Willard Hotel was destroyed by fire on April 23, 1922. (Photo source: Library of CongressThere have certainly been worse fires, but the Willard Hotel blaze of 1922 caused quite a stir. It resulted in $400,000 (close to $5,400,000 in today's money!) in damages to the grand hotel and sent some of the District's most distinguished citizens and guests out into the street in their pajamas. Some just moved a little more quickly than others. Apparently emergency procedures were a little different back then.

Filed Under:DC

Salinger and the Swami

Four years after he published The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger and his wife, Claire traveled to Washington, D.C. in pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. (Photo courtesy of Antony Di Gesu via PBS Pressroom)J.D. Salinger, one of the most important American writers of the 20th Century and the subject of tonight's American Masters documentary, was deeply influenced by Indian philosophy and religion. But that spiritual quest, curiously, led him to not to Varanasi or some other Indian city, but to Washington, D.C.

It happened in the spring of 1955. It was four years after the publication of Salinger's celebrated novel, The Catcher in the Rye, and two years after his anthology, Nine Stories, futher established him as a literary sensation.

Filed Under:DC, Virginia

The Wawaset Disaster of 1873

Wawaset Horror Headline from Washington Evening Star Newspaper, August 9, 1873. (Source: Library of Congress)Few remember it today, but in 1873 “the Waswaset horror” broke the hearts of many in D.C. and the surrounding area.

On August 8, 1873, the Wawaset was heading towards Cone River from Washington. Around 11:30AM, near Chatterson’s Landing, the fireman of the steamer raised the alarm that a fire had broken out on board. The boat was very dry, “almost like timber”, and it spread quickly on the oiled machinery of the steamer. Captain Woods immediately steered the boat towards shore. He stayed in the pilot’s house in order to keep the steering ropes from catching on fire; if those were lost, there would be no way to direct the steamer. If the steamer could make it to shore before the fire became too much for those on board, any loss of life could be avoided. Sadly, it didn’t happen that way.

Filed Under:DC, Maryland

The Real Story Behind "The Exorcist"

The "Exorcist" stairs in Georgetown, which did not figure in the actual case that inspired the movie. Credit: Sarah Stierch, Wikimedia CommonsOne of the most famous movies set in Washington is The Exorcist, the 1973 tale of a Roman Catholic priest's struggle to save a 12-year-old girl named Regan (Linda Blair) from demonic possession, which transfixed theater-goers with its phantasmagoric gore. The William Friedkin-directed film not only was a box office smash, but also became the first horror film ever nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and four decades after its release,The Exorcist and its D.C. connection continue to resonate in the public imagination. Case in point: The film's shocking climax, in which the progagonist, Father Damien Karras (portrayed by Jason Miller) takes the demon Pazuzu into his own body and is hurled to his death, has turned the steep set of steps in Georgetown where it was filmed into a macabre local landmark.

But The Exorcist has another, even more unsettling connection to the Washington area. William Peter Blatty, who wrote both the screenplay and the bestselling 1971 novel from which it was derived, was inspired by an actual case in which a 14-year-old boy purportedly was possessed by the devil, which occurred in Prince George's County 65 years ago.

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