• Howard Russell Butler painting of 1918 eclipse. (Source: Wikipedia)
    U.S. Naval Observatory
     
     
    On June 8, 1918 the U.S. Naval Observatory pulled out all the stops to document the first transcontinental total eclipse over U.S. skies in decades.
  • Music History
     
     
    As The Doors' popularity skyrocketed in 1967, the band's local tour stop might have stood out to front man Jim Morrison more than any other.
  • Ballston Common Mall
     
     
    Though perhaps hard to believe now, when it opened in 1951 Parkington Mall (later Ballston) was an exciting novelty of post-war suburbia.
  • Leonard Bernstein and cast at rehearsal for West Side Story. (Library of Congress)
    The Night 'West Side Story' Opened in Washington
     
     
    Before Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story became a Broadway smash, it premiered at the National Theater in Washington in August of 1957.
  • Bathers enjoy the Tidal Basin beach. (Photo source: Library of Congress)
    Strange But True
     
     
    In the 1920s, Washingtonians dealt with the summer heat by going to the nearest beach... at the Tidal Basin.

Two Tragedies in One Day

It was snowing on the 14th Street Bridge and traffic had ground to a standstill as thousands of federal workers and other rush-hour commuters tried to get home ahead of a major storm. With an awful metallic crack, a blue-and-white jet swept out of the swirling snow at 4 p.m., smacked against one of the bridge's spans, sheared through five cars like a machete, ripped through 50 feet of guard rail and plunged nose first into the frozen Potomac River.

Moments later in a crowded subway car underneath the National Mall:

The train reversed direction.... with a loud popping and crunching sound and a sudden showering of sparks and electrical arcing.... Dozens of people of both sexes screamed. Slowly, surrealistically, the concrete abutment grew larger, closer and actually pressed the left center-rear of the car. The side and roof slowly caved in, almost as a foot crushes a tin can. More screaming, arcing, then silence.

It sounds like a scene in a Hollywood movie right before the hero or heroine springs into action. Tragically, however, this was no movie. It was real life in Washington on January 13, 1982.

A Congressional Beating: Sam Houston and William Stanbery

The well publicized incident between Rep. John Boehner and Sen. Harry Reid during the Fiscal Cliff negotiations was big news but it was hardly D.C.'s biggest dust up between members of Congress.

Let's turn back the clock to April 13, 1832. That evening, Congressman William Stanbery left his abode at Mrs. Queen's boarding house and went out for a walk along Pennsylvania Avenue. As he was crossing the street, he encountered Sam Houston -- then a Congressman from Tennessee -- and two members of the U.S. Senate who were on their way to the theater.

The chance meeting between colleagues was hardly serendipity.

Local History on Stage: A Conversation with Jacqueline E. Lawton, Playwright of OUR MAN BEVERLY SNOW

Local history isn't just for authors and documentary filmmakers. It's great fodder for artists, too!

Just ask playwright Jacqueline Lawton who is currently working on a drama production entitled OUR MAN BEVERLY SNOW, inspired by the 1835 race riot in Washington, D.C.

Recently I had the opportunity to talk with Jacqueline about the project and how she melds history and art on stage. Check out our conversation after the jump.

Java Shack (Photo by Mark Jones)

Nazis in Arlington: George Rockwell and the ANP

Today the small brick building at 2507 N. Franklin Rd. in Arlington is the home of the Javashack, a hip coffee shop with specialty brews, free wifi and – as one patron termed it – “left-leaning politics.”

This is quite a departure from the building’s previous life. From 1968-1984, this duplex was the national headquarters of the American Nazi Party. A swastika hung over the doorway (visible from busy Wilson Blvd. half a block away) and khaki-clad “storm troopers” occupied the space, developing anti-Jewish propaganda, proclaiming White Power and periodically clashing with neighbors.

Celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation

This is one of the most powerful images I have seen in a long time. It is a 1947 photo of Sally Fickland, the oldest living former slave in the country at the time, looking at the Emancipation Proclamation, which ordered that slaves in the South be freed in 1863.

Can you imagine the emotions that she must have been feeling in that moment?

From Sunday, December 30 through Tuesday, January 1, the National Archives is celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the document with a special display in the East Rotunda Gallery.

An Elvis Sighting at the White House

Elvis Presley and President Nixon in the Oval Office, December 21, 1970. (Source: National Archives)

On December 21, 1970, Elvis Presley showed up unannounced at the northwest gate of the White House with a handwritten six page letter to President Nixon. The letter iterated Elvis's desire to become a "Federal Agent-at-Large" in the war on drugs.

After a brief discussion with Elvis and his body guards, Nixon aide Egil Krogh became convinced the singer was sincere, and thought he might be helpful in reaching out to young people about the dangers of drug abuse. Elvis and Nixon met later than same day and were photographed in the Oval Office. Years later, that picture is one of the most popular holdings in the National Archives.

Francis Blackwell Mayer's painting of the burning of the Peggy Stewart during the Annapolis Tea Party in 1774. (Source: Maryland State Archives)

The Annapolis Tea Party of 1774

Today marks the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773. Over 200 years after it happened, the incident remains one of the most popular images of the Revolutionary period. That’s no surprise. After all, there’s a certain romanticism to the story of costumed colonists dumping crates of valuable tea into Boston Harbor.

But, while the Boston protest remains the most famous demonstration against the British taxation measures, it was not the only one. There were protests throughout the colonies and one of the most dramatic played out in our own back yard — Annapolis, Maryland — in 1774.

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