National Hotel c. 1920 (Source: Library of Congress)

A Five Star Malady

What better treat for a president-elect waiting to move into the White House than to stay in one of the swankiest hotels in the capital? Well, as it turns out, James Buchanan would have done better to have found less plush accomodations in the spring of 1857. He and hundreds of others fell victim to a mysterious ailment after staying at the luxurious National Hotel.

This sickness, because it came at the end of a harsh campaign against the victorious Buchanan, was thought by many to arise from a poison. Fingers were pointed at various political opponents; even the Spanish government in Cuba was blamed.

Impressions of Washington: “An overgrown, tattered village”

Not surprisingly, our nation’s capital has undergone some pretty radical changes since its beginning. 160 years ago, the landscape of the National Mall and surrounding streets looked vastly different than it does today. We’re talking an armory, one museum, the Washington Monument and not much else.

Speaking to the Historical Society in 1901, Presbyterian minister and Chaplain of the Senate Byron Sunderland described the Washington he remembered in the mid nineteenth century.

View inside Washington Monument. (Source: National Park Service)

The Mystery of the Pope's Stone

On the evening of March 5, 1854, nine men associated with the Know-Nothing party snuck up to the base of the Washington Monument and made off with a rather hefty hunk of stone. The men carried the stone to a boat waiting on the tidal basin, smashed it into pieces and dumped it in the middle of the Potomac.

You may be curious as to why they (or we!) were interested in an old -- and probably really heavy -- rock. Where exactly did this stone come from and why was it such a big deal when it was stolen and destroyed? Maybe it was the fact that it came from the Pope... Just a guess.

Cold-Blooded Murder in Lafayette Square: The Sickles Tragedy of 1859

On the morning of February 27, 1859, Philip Barton Key was shot multiple times by the deranged Daniel E. Sickles in the middle of Lafayette Square. Sickles’ motive? …the discovery of an intimate affair between his wife and good friend.

Now Washington, D.C., has had its fair share of scandals, political pandemonium, and secret trysts over the years. But the Sickles tragedy provided a particularly scandalous dance between sex and politics even by Washington standards. After all, it’s not everyday that a Congressman commits cold-blooded murder in broad daylight on a city street.