• 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.
John Phillip Sousa Junior High School. (Source: Wikipedia user Dmadeo)

D.C.'s Own "Brown vs Board"

Ask most people what Supreme Court case ended public school segregation and (perhaps after checking their smartphone) they will say, “Brown vs. Board of Education.” That is would be correct… for most of the country. But, for citizens in the federally-controlled District of Columbia another case was more important.

Sixty years ago this week — on December 10, 1952 — the Supreme Court heard the first arguments in Bolling vs. Sharpe, a case filed on behalf of eleven African American parents whose children had been denied enrollment at D.C.'s John Phillip Sousa Junior High School on the basis of race. The court would issue its decision two years later alongside the more famous Brown decision.

The Langley Aerodrome

Nowaways nearly everyone knows that Orville and Wilbur Wright were the “First in Flight,” but that wasn’t always the case. A local scientist almost knocked them out of the history books... twice. In 1903 a team under the direction of Smithsonian Institute Secretary Samuel Langley attempted a manned flight of a motor-powered airplane from a houseboat in the Potomac River. If successful, it would be the world’s first flying machine.

The flight was a spectacular failure, but for 30 years the Smithsonian recognized Langley's Aerodrome -- and not the Wright Brothers' flyer -- as the world's first manned aircraft capable of flight. Needless to say, Orville and Wilbur were not pleased.

Joe Namath talks with Jets coach Weeb Ewbank during Namath's professional debut in Alexandria, Virginia, August 7, 1965. (Source: Alexandria Gazette)

Before He Was Broadway Joe

So where do you think Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath made his professional football debut? Shea Stadium in New York? Wrong. Fenway Park in Boston? Wrong again. D.C. Stadium in Washington? Nice try, but no.

The correct answer is George Washington High School in Alexandria, Virginia. Say what? Yes, it’s true.

On August 7, 1965 Namath and the New York Jets played the Houston Oilers at GWHS in the first preseason game of the 1965 AFL season. The game was a charity benefit sponsored by Kena Temple, the local Shriners organization, and was wrapped into the city’s annual “Alexandria Days” summer festival.

Happy Repeal Day, Maryland and Virginia! (Sorry, D.C.)

Washington Post headline

Repeal Day, December 5, 1933, was a day of wild celebration. The 18th Amendment was repealed, ending the great experiment known as Prohibition. Booze could finally start flowing again (legally) across the country and Americans were eager to imbibe. But, as kegs were tapped and bottles were uncorked from coast to coast, one place was left out of the party: Washington, D.C.

Fairlington Villages (Souce: Library of Congress)

Fairlington: Built to Last

The year is 1943. You’re new to the area and looking for a place to live that’s close enough to the city that the commute to your government job won’t be completely terrible. Maybe you’ve got a dog. Maybe you’re starting a family. It’s a busy time. The war is going on, after all, and Washington is buzzing with activity. Where are you going to live?

Well, if you were looking in Arlington, there’s a good chance you might end up in the new Fairlington neighborhood…  That is of course, if you could get a spot -– easier said than done in those days.

Woody Guthrie, 1943 (Library of Congress)

How Washington Saved Folk Music

Sure, it seems a bit counter-intuitive. How could the favorite subject of protest music also be its greatest protector? Well, believe it. If it wasn't for Alan Lomax and the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress there might not be a Woody Guthrie — and thus by extension — a Bob Dylan or a Bruce Springsteen, and well … you get the rest. In March 1940, Lomax arranged for Guthrie to travel to Washington, D.C. to record traditional ballads and his original songs at the Department of the Interior recording lab. What emerged from three days of sessions is one of the purest documents of Americana ever released.

Mail Your Christmas Cards Early

The holiday season is pretty busy for the United States Post Office -- lots of letters and packages going all over the country, from coast to coast. And we're all familiar with the warnings that tell us to mail our items early if we want to guarantee delivery by Christmas. Well, apparently D.C. residents weren't heeding the warnings back in 1921. So the U.S.P.S. called in the big fella to get the point across.

See the full size photo »

The photo for the Grammy award-winning album cover of Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits was taken at the Washington Coliseum on November 28, 1965. (Source: Wikipedia)

Bob Dylan's Greatest Pic

Washington doesn't usually get mentioned in the pantheon of great American music cities but we've had our moments. One of them was Sunday, November 28, 1965, when Bob Dylan played the Washington Coliseum.

Curiously, details about the concert itself are scarce — the Washington Post didn't bother to write a review (kind of surprising since Dylan was very well known by 1965), and Dylan's own website doesn't have a setlist from the show. But the singer's visit to Washington was significant for one now-famous image the concert produced.

Portrait of Yarrow Mamout by Chales Wilson Peale, 1819.

Yarrow Mamout's Place in History

Yarrow Mamout was the most prominent African American in early Washington.  He was a Muslim, educated in West Africa to read and write in Arabic.  He and a sister arrived in America from on a slave ship in 1752. After forty-five years as a slave of the Beall family of Maryland, Yarrow (his last name) gained his freedom and settled in Georgetown. In 1800, he acquired the property at what is now 3324 Dent Place and lived there the rest of his life.

The house on Yarrow Mamout’s old lot in Georgetown is scheduled for demolition, but efforts are underway to save any artifacts from his occupancy as well as his mortal remains from the bulldozer.

In one of D.C.'s more creative publicity stunts, this oversized chair in Anacostia served as a home for model Lynn Arnold in 1960. (Source: Flickr user stgermh. Used via Creative Commons license.)

The Big Chair in Anacostia

Creative advertising wasn’t just for Don Draper and the New York Mad Men.

In 1959, Anacostia’s Curtis Bros. Furniture Company commissioned Bassett Furniture to construct a 19.5 foot tall Duncan Phyfe dining room chair to put on display outside their showroom at V St. and Nichols Ave. SE (now Martin Luther King, Jr Blvd. SE).

In one of the more creative publicity stunts D.C. has ever seen, the company then convinced local model Lynn Arnold to live in a glass apartment atop the chair for seven weeks. Crowds flocked to the store in droves to check out the scene.

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