1940s

Filed Under:DC

How a Failed German Spy Mission Turned into J. Edgar Hoover’s Big Break

The Nazi Saboteur trial taking place in a converted Department of Justice room, 1942. (Photo source: Library of Congress)On June 13, 1942, four Nazi spies disembarked their U-Boat on a beach near Long Island, New York. Four days later, a similar group landed on Ponte Verda Beach, Florida. Their goal: to harm American economic targets in the hope of turning the war back in favor of Germany. The men had been extensively trained at a sabotage school near Berlin and carried enough explosives, primers, and incendiaries to support two years worth of destruction. They carried plans with them that outlined attacks of New York’s Hell Gate Bridge, hydroelectric plants at Niagara Falls, aluminum plants in Philadelphia, the canal lock systems in Cincinnati and St. Louis, and other targets.

Filed Under:Virginia

Arlington Police Department: 75 Years Serving the Community

 

1940 was a big year for municiple services in northern Virginia. Sparked by the growing population in the region, Arlington created professional police and fire departments and Fairfax created a police department of its own. In celebration of the ACPD's 75th Anniversary, the department has put together a book featuring photos and stories about the history of law enforcement in the county.

Capt. Michelle Nuneville will be sharing some of the stories she and colleagues uncovered tonight in a free public program for the Arlington Historical Society (7pm in the Central Library Auditorium). Don't miss it! Last week, Capt. Nuneville was kind enough to give us a preview of her talk. Check out the video above and read more after the jump.

Filed Under:DC, Maryland

Baseball But No Palm Trees: Nats Wartime Spring Training

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, shown here in throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at Griffith Stadium in 1934, recommended that baseball continue during World War II. However, teams were expected curtail travel and conduct spring training close to home. (Photo source: National Archives)Ah, Major League Baseball Spring Training, the annual spring rite when ball clubs escape the cold of the north and go to Florida or Arizona to shake off the winter rust. Teams have been doing it for over one hundred years.

In fact, our hometown Washington Nationals began the trend – sort of –  in 1888 when they became the first club to hold camp in Florida, setting up shop in Jacksonville. The experiment was a little before its time. When the Nats finished the 1888 season with a 46-86 record (a mere 37 and a half games out of first place), they and other teams decided traveling South to train was not a recipe for success.

It took a few years, but teams eventually reconsidered and – thanks largely to a sunshine state building boom – Florida’s Grapefruit League was well established by the 1930s. The Washington Senators camped in Orlando in 1936 and stayed there until 1960, except for a memorable three-year stretch during World War II.

Filed Under:DC

Forgotten Greatness: The Washington Bears Basketball Team

The history of the Bears can be traced back to the D.C.’s journalism pioneer Harold “Hal” Jackson. In 1939, Jackson began broadcasting Howard University’s home baseball games and the Negro League baseball team, The Homestead Grays. In 1941, Jackson used his popularity and sports business savvy to organize a new all-black basketball team in the District.

Filed Under:Virginia

Meeting the Community's Needs: Arlington’s Friendly Cab Company

Friendly Cab Company's Charles Collins (right) identified a need in the Nauck/Green Valley community. (Source: Collins family photo)In the 1940s, Jim Crow held strong in Arlington, Virginia. African-Americans encountered discrimination at segregated eating establishments, businesses and recreation facilities. Even access to medical care was divided along racial lines.

African American mothers were barred from the maternity ward at Arlington Hospital and were expected to travel to hospitals in Washington, D.C. or Alexandria to give birth. For many black Arlingtonians, getting to D.C. was difficult – especially in a medical emergency – as many could not afford cars of their own.

In 1947, three men with bright ideas and business ingenuity stepped up to fill the void.

Filed Under:DC

Ezra Pound's Stay at St. Elizabeths

Ezra Pound mugshotEzra Pound was an acclaimed writer who was a central figure in the modernist movement, editing T.S. Eliot’s landmark poem The Waste Land and helping to get other modern writers published, including Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce. When Pound lived in D.C. for twelve years after World War II, you might assume that he called a literary haven or Capitol Hill row house home, but that is far from the case.

Pound was actually a patient at St. Elizabeths hospital, Washington's foremost mental institution even though the doctor's who assessed him found him to be of a sane condition.

How did that happen? Glad you asked. It's a pretty interesting story.

Filed Under:DC

Standing Room Only: DC's WWII Housing Crunch

Two African American children in DC alley in 1930s. (Photo source: Library of Congress.)During World War II, the job market in D.C. exploded; between 1940 and 1945, the number of civilians employed by the government almost quadrupled. The Defense Housing Registry, created by the DC government to help these new employees find housing, processed around 10,000 newcomers every month.

The housing market in D.C. was not at all equipped to deal with this influx; construction in the city had slowed during the Great Depression, and halted completely when materials and labor were diverted to the war effort. So what resulted from the overcrowding of Washington?

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.

Filed Under:DC

It's Raining Bottles at Griffith Stadium: The Music Battle of 1942

Griffith Stadium hosted hundreds of historic baseball and football games over the years. It was also the venue of a “Battle of Music” between jazz artists Louis Armstrong and Charlie Barnet in the summer of 1942. (Photo source: Wikipedia)On July 23, 1942 Washingtonians packed Griffith Stadium to the gills for a special “Battle of Music” between African American jazz legend Louis Armstrong and white saxophonist Charlie Barnet. In segregated Washington of the 1940s, such an organized interracial competition was a big event and few people – especially in the black community that surrounded the stadium – wanted to miss the “musical fisticuffs.”[1]

Filed Under:DC

We Will Never Die Pageant, 1943

Harry Selden’s donation of this program to the Jewish Historical Society’s archives in 1998 prompted the Society to uncover the pageant’s local story. (Photo source: Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington)In an age before e-news, social media, and cellphones, one pageant helped bring the truth about the tragedy unfolding in Hitler’s Europe to the nation’s attention.

Seventy years after First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, hundreds of members of Congress, and several Supreme Court Justices convened in Constitution Hall to learn of the atrocities being committed in Europe, the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington will mark the anniversary of that pageant, entitled We Will Never Die – a Mass Memorial to the Two Million Dead of Europe.

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