• Prince on stage mid-performance, with the crowd throwing up "I Love You" signs. (Photo: Courtesy of the Gallaudet University Archives)
    Prince Rogers Nelson (1958 – 2016)
     
     
    At the pinnacle of his fame in 1984 Prince played a free concert for 1,900 students at Gallaudet University and 600 special needs students from D.C.-area schools.
  • Jackie Robinson tied a National Negro League record by going 7 for 7 at the plate in a June 24, 1945 game against the Homestead Grays in Washington. (Photo source: Library of Congress)
    Baseball History
     
     
    Washington baseball fans had limited opportunities to see Jackie Robinson play in person, but when it happened on June 24, 1945 he did not disappoint.
  • President Taft Starts a Baseball Tradition in Washington, 1910
    William Howard Taft
     
     
    Presidential first pitches are commonplace at MLB stadiums now, but the tradition started with President Taft and the Washington Nationals in 1910.
  • Ling-Ling (left) and Hsing-Hsing, the National Zoological Park's giant pandas, playing in their outside enclosure in August 1985, by Jessie Cohen (Smithsonian Institution Archives, Negative Number: 96-1378)
    Local Attraction
     
     
    The 1972 arrival of Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing caused a crazy stir, which First Lady Pat Nixon termed "Panda-monium" in the nation's capital.
  • Currier and Ives, The Assassination of Lincoln at Ford's Theater, April 14, 1865. (Photo Source: Wikipedia)
    Lincoln Assassination
     
     
    The tragic but little-known story of Clara Harris and Henry Rathbone, who were with Abraham Lincoln the night he was shot.
  • Julius Hobson: Getting Out of the Rat Race
    Julius Hobson
     
     
    In 1964, when D.C. wouldn't do anything about the rat problem in Shaw, Julius Hobson gave them an ultimatum: fix the problem, or have it in Georgetown.

First Union Officer Killed in Civil War Was a Friend of Lincoln

Death of Col. Ellsworth After hauling down the rebel flag, at the taking of Alexandria, Va., May 24th 1861; Creator: Currier & Ives. (Source: Library of Congress)

Possibly the toughest part of being a President is having to send U.S. forces into combat, knowing that some of them will not return alive.  After the Civil War began in 1861, President Abraham Lincoln had to face that terrible reality very quickly. On the morning of May 24, 1861, a personal friend of the President, Col. Elmer Ellsworth, became the first Union officer to be killed in the conflict in nearby Alexandria, Virginia.

 

Ice Carnival at the Tidal Basin

People ice skating and walking on the Tidal Basin, year unknown. [Estimated to be between 1900 and 1930] (Image source: D.C. Public Library, Special Collections.)

We’ve written earlier about how the Tidal Basin was the site of a popular public beach in the 1920s. In the decade before, however, it hosted another source of popular entertainment: ice skating. In 1912, it was the site of an elaborate “ice carnival,” with thousands of Washingtonians showing up to skate, sled, and have an evening of wintry fun.

In the 1900s, the Tidal Basin freezing was a rare treat. Unlike the Potomac River, when the enormous basin froze completely, it had a smooth surface, turning it into a gigantic potential ice rink. The absolutely frigid temperatures of the winter of 1912 gave D.C. residents ample chance to take advantage of this. For several weeks in January and February 1912, D.C. was subjected to “the coldest temperatures of the 20th century.” It was a cold spell to put the polar vortex to shame. On January 14, 1912, the low was -13 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature which has never again been reached in the District, and which is rivaled only by one freezing day in 1899. Pipes burst, gas meters iced over, and milk bottles froze, with “the cream [swelling] out into a solid cylinder two inches above the mouths of the bottles.”

Obviously, people were pretty miserable. But the upside of this was that for several weeks, the Tidal Basin was completely frozen, creating perfect skating conditions. Many people had already ventured out onto the ice on their own, but some District officials had bigger plans.

1977: A Long Time Ago, in a Theater Not Far Away ...

Uptown Theater, Washington, D.C. (Credit:  Highsmith, Carol M., photographer. Photographs in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the latest installment of the long-running sci-fi movie franchise, premiered at the Uptown Theater in the District's Cleveland Park neighborhood on December 17, 2015, and it's pretty obvious from the legions of fans who showed up that it's going to be an enormous hit. That's all the more remarkable when you consider that when the first Star Wars made its debut at the same theater back on May 25, 1977, few in Hollywood expected director George Lucas' movie to do much business, let alone the pandemonium it would go on to create.

Memorial to P.O. Box 1142 located at Fort Hunt in Alexandria, VA

P.O. Box 1142: The Secrets of Fort Hunt

December 7th, 1941. Pearl Harbor smoldered following intense, coordinated attacks by air forces from the Empire of Japan. Within days, Americans were embroiled in the conflict that was the Second World War, while the American military scrambled to establish a competent intelligence gathering operation on the East Coast. Carved from a portion of George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, Alexandria’s Fort Hunt began its life as a coastal fortification during the Spanish-American War. With its close proximity to Washington, Fort Hunt became an ideal location for one of the most secretive group of programs in American history. Codenamed after its post office box in Alexandria, 1142, Fort Hunt became a secret interrogation center for high value German POWs. The layers of secrecy did not stop there. Unbeknownst even to interrogators stationed there, Fort Hunt also held a program whose mission was to communicate and aid in the escape of Allied POWs trapped in several German camps throughout Europe.

The Stranger in America by Charles William Janson. (Photo source: Internet Archive)

Impressions of Washington: Charles William Janson, 1807

Throughout the history of the capital, people have thought of it as… a pretty bad place, honestly. From Lead Belly in 1937, to Mark Twain and Charles Dudley in 1873, to Nathaniel Hawthorn in 1862, to Byron Sunderland in the 1850s, to Charles Dickens in 1842, to a British Chaplin in the War of 1812, to Abigail Adams in 1800, it seems like pretty much everyone has disliked the District. If you don’t want to read one more, skip to the bottom to check out the people who, somehow, against all odds, actually like the city -- if not, read on!

Charles William Janson was an Englishman who lived in and wrote about America from 1793 to 1806. He published the account of his travels in 1807, in The Stranger in America. The following is what he had to say about what was then called “Washington City”...

Commissioner Melvin Hazen and William Van Duzer, putting the first nickel in the parking meters ordered by Congress for a test in Washington in November 1938. (Source: Library of Congress)

When Parking Meters Were a Hot Controversy in Washington

Washington, DC has 17,000 parking meters, and the necessity of feeding them quarters--or, in the case of the newest models, a credit card swipe or electronic payment via smartphone--is one of those annoyances that urban drivers must grudgingly accept.  As hard as it may be to imagine, though, there was a time in the early 20th Century the idea of installing devices to collect fees for parking spaces was opposed by the American Automobile Assocation and motorists who saw it as unfair taxation, and it took several years to get approval to install the first meters on District streets.

 

 

 

Painting of Thomas Moore from National Portrait Gallery. (Source: Wikipedia)

Ireland's National Poet Visits Washington, 1803

In the wilderness of early Washington, fancy hotels and salons were not yet available for the stars of the city to gather. Instead, prominent citizens gathered in a farmer’s cottage to “discuss crops and drink apple jack.” In 1803, an Irish celebrity joined them around the fire, and immortalized the scenery in verse.

Remembering Arlington's John Lyon

In honor of Veterans Day, the Arlington Historical Society is having a talk about Arlington's fallen sons of World War I tomorrow night at Marymount University. To get you ready, we sat down with the speaker, Annette Benbow, and she told us about one of the men, Lt. John Lyon. Watch the video above and then click through for more information.

Julius Hobson's Unlikely Relationship with the F.B.I.

Julius Hobson was as active an activist as you could imagine, but he also collaborated with law enforcement for several years. (Image source: DC Public Library, Washingtoniana Division, Collection 1, Julius Hobson Papers.)

We’ve written before on this blog about the exploits of Julius Hobson. A D.C. civil rights activist in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, his campaigns against segregation and injustice were based on equal parts audacity and bluff, ranging from staging a “lie-in” at a D.C. hospital, to encouraging people to paste pro-integration stickers over the punchcards on their power bills,  to threatening massive protests and boycotts that had no chance of materializing. He combated police brutality by following policemen around with a long-range microphone, and, most famously, promised to release cages full of rats on Georgetown if the city didn’t deal with the rat problem elsewhere. His antics effected genuine social change, in large part because everyone was too nervous to call him on his bluffs, for fear that he might be able to back them up. His acts were already so outlandish, anything seemed plausible, except for one rumor that seemed to be too uncharacteristic to be true. Yet, it was the truth: for years, Julius Hobson passed information to the FBI.

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